Europe

EU needs stricter border checks to disrupt terrorists, say leaders

A German policeman stops vehicles near the Polish border on 15 April 15 2014 Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption The EU-wide plan for tighter border controls follows the deaths of 17 people in attacks in Paris last month

European Union leaders have called for stricter checks on travellers entering the passport-free Schengen area, in response to last month's Paris attacks.

At a meeting in Brussels on Thursday they agreed on a need to strengthen measures to "disrupt terrorist travel".

Checks would be carried out on "individuals enjoying the right of free movement" against anti-terrorism databases, a statement said.

EU travellers can often avoid extensive ID checks under the Schengen agreement.

The agreement abolished internal borders, enabling passport-free movement between 26 European countries. The United Kingdom and Republic of Ireland are not involved.

Spain had suggested that the agreement might have to be amended to permit more border checks on people suspected of having terrorist links.

But European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker said the Commission saw no need to revise the Schengen rules for now.

It was agreed that more could be done under the existing framework to monitor travellers entering or leaving the Schengen zone without changing the agreement or undermining the right to free movement.

Countries would "proceed without delay to systematic and co-ordinated checks'' on anyone whose movements are flagged as suspicious by databases that use unspecified "common risk indicators", the statement said.

European Parliament President Martin Schulz endorsed tighter controls, but said there were red lines he and other lawmakers would refuse to cross.

Image copyright AFP
Image caption Martin Schulz was among those to warn against infringing upon the right to free movement

He warned that rashly curtailing individual rights in the name of boosting public safety would play into the terrorists' hands by discrediting Western-style democracy.

EU governments want to prevent Europeans from going to fight with Islamic State militants in Syria and Iraq, fearing that they could carry out attacks after they return home.

At present, only about 30% of passports presented by travellers entering or leaving the Schengen area are checked electronically to see if they are lost, stolen or counterfeit, officials said.

The aim is to move that closer to 100%.

The leaders also called for police and judicial authorities to step up information sharing to prevent arms trafficking and money laundering and to effectively freeze assets used for financing terrorism.

Some of the measures still require approval by the European Parliament to go into effect.

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