Ljubljana will continue to insist that Austria’s control of the internal Schengen border with Slovenia is an “ineffective” and “disproportionate” measure, the country’s government has told SchengenVisaInfo.com.
Despite these estimates, controls along the 330-kilometre border dividing the two EU states have remained effective for eight years since 2015. Citing irregular migration concerns, Vienna has notified the EU Commission 18 times about the extension of internal border controls with its neighbouring countries, Slovenia and Hungary.
But such a measure is “not effectively preventing migration”, according to the government of Slovenia, as Slovenian police have not detected any increase in irregular crossings at the shared border with Austria, and the number of joint borders is negligible.
For example, 58 persons were returned from Austria in 2022, 70 in 2021 and 176 in 2020.
Emphasising that border control also imposes a heavy burden on border populations, travellers, the environment and the economy, the government has said that frontier checks should be replaced by other measures such as joint patrols, enhanced in-depth control and other joint actions and exercises based on risk assessment, considering the Schengen Area as one of the EU’s most important achievements which “must be preserved”.
Temporary reintroduction of border controls at the internal borders is allowed to the Member States according to the Schengen Borders Code (SBC) in the event of a serious threat to public or internal security. However, it must be applied as a last resort measure in exceptional situations and must respect the principle of proportionality.
The reintroduction of border controls can be prolonged for renewable periods of up to 30 days, but the total period shall not surpass six months, following Articles 25 and 26 of the codified SBC. Member States are required to provide prior notification to the Commission and other Member States at least four weeks before implementing such an extension.
Austria implemented border controls in the autumn of 2015, citing an increased number of people seeking international protection.
Big influx of persons seeking international protection, all borders, focus on land borders with Italy, Hungary, Slovenia and Slovakia.
They have been renewed every six months since then, remaining effective up to this day.
On the other hand, Ljubljana believes that controls should only be introduced as a last-resort measure, as cited by the Schengen Border Code.
Slovenia’s position is that control at the EU’s internal borders should only be introduced as a measure of last resort and that it should be proportionate to pertinent threats identified, and above all, it should be temporary and lifted as soon as the conditions for it are no longer met.
The government argues that the Ministry of the Interior of Austria failed to demonstrate the existence of a new serious threat in its latest decision to extend border controls, which, as per the judgement of the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU), is a prerequisite for further extensions of frontier checks.
The position of the Government of the Republic of Slovenia is that Austria should take into account the principles of necessity and proportionality when extending temporary control at the Slovenian-Austrian border, as also pointed out by the Prime Minister of the Republic of Slovenia, Dr Robert Golob, during his official visit to Austria in June this year.
Formal Consultation on Austria’s Border Controls
As confirmed by both Slovenia’s government and the European Commission to SchengenVisaInfo.com, a formal consultation procedure regarding the matter has been initiated.
Member States are obliged to prepare a detailed risk assessment ensuring the prolongation of border controls is a last-resort measure. The Commission is required to issue an opinion assessing the necessity and proportionality of reintroduced frontier checks whenever they are applied for more than six months.
Based on the identified serious threat, Frontex and Europol will participate in assessing the risk and the consultation process following an opinion from the Commission or a Member State.
The results of this consultation procedure will involve the Commission, the relevant Member States, the European Border and Coast Guard Agency (Frontex) and Europol.
Slovenia has therefore reiterated its disagreement with this course of action.
The government mentioned to SchengenVisaInfo.com the fact that in April this year, the Minister of the Interior, Boštjan Poklukar, addressed a letter to the Commissioner for Home Affairs, Ylva Johansson, and the Vice-President for Promoting our European Way of Life, Margaritis Schinas.
In the letter, Poklukar urged the European Commission, as the guardian of the Treaties, to take action and restore the rule of law immediately, emphasising that the government had initiated a formal consultation procedure.
“Slovenia has thus launched a formal consultation procedure under Article 27 of the Schengen Borders Code. In May 2023, the first trilateral meeting between representatives of the two countries and the Commission took place, with Slovenia actively participating and making proposals to resolve the situation”
The Commission has highlighted its cooperation with European Union Member States in tackling prolonged reintroductions of internal frontier checks and has confirmed the initiation of a formal consultation process.
To assess whether the internal border controls are necessary and proportionate, and based on the existence of a new serious threat affecting public policy or internal security, the Commission has launched the formal consultation process, which is currently ongoing. The Commission reserves its right to issue an opinion on the necessity and proportionality of the current controls at any time.
As clarified by the Commission, articles 25-27 of the Schengen Borders Code set out the general framework, the criteria and the procedure for reintroducing internal border controls.
It told SchengenVisaInfo.com that since May 2023, it has launched a formal consultation process (under Art. 27 of the Schengen Borders Code), which will be built on the dialogue that has taken place so far.
The European Union’s Executive Body said that it has held several bilateral and multilateral meetings with concerned Member States (including Austria) to consult on the necessity and proportionality of checks, stressing that the process is led by the Schengen coordinator and the consultation is still ongoing.
The Commission will continue the dialogue with the Member States concerned to clarify which are the new threats, necessity and proportionality of reintroduced border controls in response to these threats.
President Musar’s Threat: Slovenia’s Plan to Challenge Austrian Border Controls
In April this year, Slovenia’s President, Natasa Pirc Musar, warned that Ljubljana would take the matter to Brussels if Austria maintains border controls in place, according to a report from Anadolu Agency.
If we don’t reach an agreement soon, I fear that the first measure will be a notification to the EU Commission and corresponding further steps within the Brussels administration.
A month later, the European Commission threatened Austria with legal action regarding its extended border controls while launching a formal consultation procedure with all involved EU countries.
However, Austrian authorities have extended border controls at the Slovenian and Hungarian borders again until at least November 11.
Irregular migration concerns have prompted Austrian authorities to implement controls not only with Slovenia but also with Slovakia, Hungary, and Italy.
Besides, these concerns have led authorities in Vienna to oppose the expansion of the Schengen Zone, particularly the inclusion of Bulgaria and Romania.
Austria’s Ministry of the Interior told SchengenVisaInfo.com that as long as the Schengen System does not work, it cannot be further expanded.
As long as the system Schengen “does not work, there is no point in expanding it. Migration pressure remains high. This means that the external border protection clearly does not work. Against this background and from today’s point of view, Austria cannot support the accession of Bulgaria and Romania at this stage.
The data from the EU Border and Coast Guard Agency (Frontex) revealed that in the first nine months of this year, a total of 279,350 irregular border crossing attempts had been detected in the European Union’s external borders, with the Western Balkan route accounting for the second most active route with more than 81,800 detections.
Security Worries Prompt Reimplementation of EU Border Controls
The war between Israel and Hamas, along with attempts at irregular border crossings, prompted several EU countries to reinstate border controls, with Slovenia, Croatia and Italy becoming the latest countries in the EU to introduce such measures.
On October 20, Slovenia’s government announced that it would initiate border controls with Hungary and Croatia on October 21, which would last for at least ten days.
There is a need for immediate action to ensure public order and security of our citizens as well as the citizens of the European Union.
Ljublajna’s announcement came hours before Croatian Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic announced that similar measures would be applied to Slovenia.
Besides, last month, the government of Italy also said that it would halt an open-border agreement with Slovenia for a period of ten days.
Earlier this month, Italy announced that border controls with Slovenia will also continue in November, Rome’s parliament minister has confirmed.
The measure has been extended from October 31 for another 20 days, in agreement with the Slovenian and Croatian governments, but its duration will also depend on how the international scenarios evolve.
In addition, the Minister of the Interior of Italy, Matteo Piantedosi, said that the border controls were likely to be prolonged into next year, citing the risk of terrorists among migrants in the transit on the Balkan route.
In October, Denmark’s Ministry of Justice confirmed that the control at Denmark’s border with Germany would be prolonged for an additional six months, due to “current migration pressure.”
The German authorities announced on Wednesday that the country has decided to increase border controls along “smuggling routes” on the border with Czech and Poland. Federal Ministry of Interior
As a response to the increased number of irregular migrants, Austria, Czechia, and Poland have introduced controls on borders with Slovakia.
Slovenia’s border controls that took effect on October 21 were initially prolonged until November 19.
Recently authorities in Slovenia announced that they decided to prolong frontier checks at their common borders with Croatia and Hungary for another 20 days.
The decision was confirmed by the director of the Uniformed Police Administration at the General Police Administration, Marko Gašperlin, while emphasising that extensions are permitted for a period of two months based on the Schengen Borders Code.