Labour MP calls for suspension of Schengen agreement due to ‘potential risks’

Labour MP Franco Mercieca says free movement principle enshrined by Schengen agreement should be temporarily suspended to give states more time to improve screening procedures to eliminate any risks posed by asylum-seekers

Labour backbencher Franco Mercieca has called for the temporary suspension of the Schengen agreement to give European states more time to improve screening procedures to eliminate any risks posed by asylum seekers fleeing war-torn countries.

Addressing the OSCE PA meeting in Mongolia, Mercieca – who was part of a delegation of the Maltese parliament together with parliamentary secretary Michael Falzon and Nationalist MP Fredrick Azzopardi – argued that the influx of thousands of refugees must also be analysed from a national security point of view.

Mercieca’s comments come in the wake of Germany reintroducing border checks with Austria, which move represents a dramatic shift in refugee policy. Differences between member states on how to handle refugees have sparked tensions throughout the region and has put Schengen’s principle of free movement across borders under strain.

Germany’s decision to reintroduce border checks triggered tit-for-tat moves in Slovakia, Austria, and Netherlands. Likewise, Hungary sealed its borders in an effort to stem the flow of migrants, and also built a four-metre razor-wire fence along its 175km border with Serbia.

But whereas the German government has based its decision to give the country some respite from the “uncontrollable and unmanageable influx of third country nationals,” Labour MP Franco Mercieca feels that the Schengen agreement should be suspended to “protect citizens from potential risks.”

“Politicians have a responsibility to protect their citizens from potential risks and not all those who claim to seek asylum abroad have good intentions,” Mercieca said during the parliamentary conference.

Notwithstanding his cautious approach, however, the Labour backbencher insisted that asylum-seekers must be protected, arguing that politicians “have to shoulder their political responsibility and take the necessary actions to protect the lives of thousands of vulnerable people who are compelled to flee from their homeland due to war, persecution, and fear of death."

Analysts have warned that the suspension of the Schengen agreement could however spell trouble for the freedom of movement principle, and may threaten years of cooperation. These qualms were also voiced by Peter Sutherland, the UN’s special representative on international migration who said that, “if there is no agreement to share refugees between the countries of the European Union, it risks undermining the very essence of the European project.”

On his part, parliamentary secretary Michael Falzon said that in previous years, Malta was alone in tackling the issue of migration, and that nowadays larger and more influential states are doing their part.

Together with Nationalist MP Fredrick Azzopardi, Franco Mercieca and Michael Falzon led a delegation of the Maltese Parliament to the Parliamentary Assembly within the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE PA) which took place in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia from 15 to 18 September.

The Parliamentary Conference was hosted by the State Great Hural (Parliament) of Mongolia and it brought together nearly 200 members of Parliament for discussions focusing on the security challenges that the OSCE area is currently facing and the role of parliamentarians in fostering co-operation to address these concerns.