Paris will ask the European Commission, the bloc’s executive arm, to allow the border controls to be extended beyond this May, when the legal basis for the current measures expires, the interior security chief said, adding that France’s upcoming role as G7 host made it a prime target of terrorist plots. Mr Castaner said yesterday: “Upon the expiration of the current extension in May 2019, I would like to ask once again for a derogation to protect and control our country’s [internal] borders, particularly in the context of the upcoming G7 summit in France.” The Group of Seven summit will be held in the south-western town of Biarritz situated in the Basque country from August 25 to 27.
Mr Castaner underlined the ongoing “risks” posed by radical extremist groups like Islamic State (ISIS) and their affiliates.
France, the number one target for ISIS in the west, has repeatedly argued that while it is still committed to freedom of movement, it cannot do without border checks in light of the tense security situation in Europe and home-grown jihadist threat.
Schengen rules allow EU member states to re-introduce internal border identity checks for up to six months in the event of a “serious threat to public policy or internal security”.
This can be extended by additional six-month periods, up to a maximum of two years.
Schengen members France, Germany, Austria, Sweden, Denmark and Norway all re-imposed internal frontier checks in 2015 to counter unprecedented levels of illegal migration and Islamist attacks.
France imposed emergency border controls on the night of November 13, 2015, after 130 people were killed as part of a coordinated ISIS-led attack in central Paris. Some of the Paris attackers were later found to have entered Europe by posing as migrants.
Internal border checks have been systematically renewed every six months since, with intelligence officials citing the ongoing and significant terrorist threat.
Earlier this month Sweden also extended its border checks.
Nearly all EU states consider the free-travel Schengen area as a major benefit of decades of European integration, and are keen to avoid disruptions to travel and trade.
But systematic checks in the border-free zone have become the new reality over the last three years in a terror-fatigued Europe.
The bloc is now working on changing its laws to allow for the introduction of such measures more easily and for longer periods.
But the free movement for European citizens is a founding principle of the union, and many in Brussels remain attached to this right.
During an online question and answer session in September 2017, Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker admitted that the Schengen zone had allowed terrorists to move freely between EU states, but insisted that the benefits of removing borders far outweighed the dangers.
He said: “ID checks have been removed from some borders, but that is not an invitation to terrorists to travel freely through Europe… It is true that occasionally terrorists do benefit from it but the prime beneficiaries are European citizens.”
“Now we’ve removed those border controls and we’re being told ‘You’re opening the borders to terrorists!’. No, we’re opening the borders for tourists.”
France, Belgium, Germany, Luxembourg and the Netherlands removed all border checkpoints between each other more than 20 years ago, but the Schengen zone has since grown to include 26 countries.