Macron: Europe Must Strengthen Border Controls After Terror Attacks

PARIS (Reuters) -
French President Emmanuel Macron flanked by Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin (L) and French Minister for European Affairs Clement Beaune (R), speaks to media during a visit on the strengthening of border controls at the crossing between Spain and France, at Le Perthus, France, Thursday. (Guillaume Horcajuelo/Pool via Reuters)

Europe must rethink its open-border Schengen area, including a more robust protection of the zone’s external frontiers, President Emmanuel Macron said on Thursday, after a spate of Islamist terror attacks in France and Austria.

The tighter controls were needed to curb clandestine immigration, said Macron, adding that the criminal gangs illegally trafficking migrants into Europe were often linked to terror networks.

“I am in favor of a deep overhaul of Schengen to rethink its organization and to strengthen our common border security with a proper border force,” Macron said during a visit to the Franco-Spanish border.

The president said he would present proposals to European Union partners at an EU summit in December.

Europe is reeling from two attacks in the past week that involved assailants who moved freely between Schengen member states.

On Oct. 29 a Tunisian man killed three people in a church in Nice. Brahim Aouissaoui had arrived on the Italian island of Lampedusa, which lies off North Africa, five weeks earlier. After being transferred to the mainland, Aouissaoui traveled into France by train hours before launching his attack.

The jihadist who killed four people in Vienna on Monday traveled to neighboring Slovakia in July in an attempt to buy ammunition, Austrian officials said.

Macron said the recent attacks were a warning to Europe that “the terrorist risk is everywhere.”

The proposals that Macron would put to EU nations would be based on principals he set out in a letter to citizens ahead of European elections last year, a junior minister said.

In that letter, Macron wrote that Europe needed a common border force and a single asylum office, strict border control obligations and for each member state to supply intelligence under the authority of a European Council for Internal Security.

On Thursday, the president said France would double the number of police manning its borders.

Nearly 628,000 non-EU citizens were found to be illegally present in the bloc in 2019, up 10% on the previous year, according to Eurostat data. More than 717,000 non-EU citizens were refused entry, the highest number on record.

France’s border police chief told Macron there had been a surge in attempted crossings of the Franco-Spanish frontier since it reopened in June following the lifting of COVID restrictions. Many came from Algeria and Morocco, agents said.

“We need to bolster our fight against illegal immigration and traffickers who, increasingly often, have links to terrorism,” the president said.

The Schengen zone consists of 22 of the 27 European Union member states, as well as Iceland, Norway, Switzerland and Lichtenstein. Britain and Ireland are not part of it.