Schengen Area’s Quinquennial Evaluation Report Identifies Recurrent Deficiencies in Member States

The European Union Commission has unfolded the quinquennial report on the Functioning of the Schengen Evaluation and Monitoring Mechanism, which consists of the findings of evaluations carried out throughout the last five years within the Schengen Area Member States.

The report has been published in advance of the Schengen Forum between the Members of the European Parliament and Home Affairs Ministers on Monday, November 30, which will gather the Interior Ministries and border police to foster concrete cooperation.

According to the report, the findings of over 200 evaluations carried out between 2015 and 2019 show that the Schengen States are overall adequately implementing the Schengen rules, with serious deficiencies identified only in a few countries, and most of the time, rightly addressed.

29 unannounced visits and 8 revisits were carried out for 15 countries in all main policy fields with the exception of data protection and police cooperation,” the report explains.

The Commission has adopted 198 evaluation reports based on these visits, and the Council has addressed over 4,500 recommendations to the Member States. Yet, only 45 evaluations have been closed, whereas several evaluation reports and recommendations are still to be adopted.

The report has found that there are some recurrent deficiencies in the application of the Schengen Acquis by the Member States, including divergent practices among them, which the Commission claims have an impact on the proper functioning of the Schengen Zone.

Evaluations allowed identifying and addressing numerous recurring deficiencies,” the report notes, explaining that several Member States have taken a positive attitude towards improving the deficiencies identified during the evaluations.

The Commission reports that some of the Member States took swift remedial action even before the Council adopted its recommendations, as revisits showed.

The main findings per policy field are as follows:

External Border Management

The evaluation report covers several elements of external border management, which are:

  • external border checks at sea and airports and land border crossing points
  • external border surveillance
  • national strategies
  • concepts for European integrated border management
  • risk analysis
  • inter-agency and international cooperation
  • national quality control mechanism
  • external border management capacities (personnel and equipment)
  • external border management infrastructure

The 42 evaluations carried out in this regard show that the Member States, to a large extent, effectively implement the Schengen Borders Code and manage external borders in line with it.

And despite that progress has also been made to harmonise Member States’ strategic approaches towards external border management, serious deficiencies have been found in four member states – in Greece, Spain, Sweden and Iceland. All four have worked in this direction since the evaluations took place.

Today, no Member State has serious deficiencies in this area, but specific challenges remain in a few countries that still need to be promptly addressed,” the report highlights.

It also notes that the Member States do not have a uniform level of control at the EU’s external borders yet, and practice different approaches on a number of issues in this regard.

In various Member States, the strategic planning for integrated border management is not adequate which results in reduced inter-institutional cooperation, overlapping of competences between different external border authorities and scattered resource allocation,” the report notes, adding that these deficiencies could decrease operational efficiency and response capacity.

Overall, the report concludes that the quality of controls at the external borders is good, though it still varies among the member states.

Common Visa Policy

Another policy field evaluated in the report is also the common visa policy of the Schengen area, which is deeply linked to external border management.

Throughout the period of five years, the Commission carried out 29 evaluations in the Member States related to the visa policy, and serious deficiencies were identified only in two Member States – during the evaluation of Finland in 2018 and the unannounced evaluation of the Netherlands in 2019.

Moreover, despite a common regulatory framework, Member States’ visa-issuing practices still diverge in several aspects. Consular staff sometimes still view Schengen visas as ‘national’ visas,” the Commission concludes in its report.

It also finds that competition between States in ‘attractive markets’ as well as ‘visa-shopping’- which is the phenomena of applicants searching out for consulates that issue visas easier and in shorter periods than others – weakens the perception of Schengen as a common travel area.

The report identifies other deficiencies too, as the difference in practices of the Member States when determining the validity of visas and required documents for application, in spite of the list of documents approved by the Commission.

The examination of applications has not been found to be sufficiently thorough in all instances, particularly in case of centralised decision-making,” the report finds.

It also highlights that in many consulates, there are staff shortages and lack of staff training, which leads these consulates to fail meeting the deadlines set out in the Visa Code.

Other problems identified are as follows:

  • monitoring of external service providers is not always adequate
  • practices of external service providers always comply with legal requirements.
  • a systematic collection of fingerprints even if applicants have given fingerprints in the previous five years
  • incomplete or outdated information made available to the public on conditions and
  • sometimes-inadequate quality data is entered into the Visa Information System,
  • the lack of adequate IT training in regard to VIS, including limited awareness of certain functionalities of the system

Yet the report concludes that the majority of deficiencies have been identified and successfully addressed in the past five years.

Schengen Information System (SIS)

The Commission has also identified serious deficiencies in the implementation of SIS – which is a key system for the abolition of internal border controls as it offers essential support to security policy across Schengen.

According to 32 evaluations carried in the past years, deficiencies have been found in four Member States which have actively worked on remedying them.

Certain recurrent deficiencies emerged during evaluations, such as the lack of technical tools or mandatory procedures at the country level to upload fingerprints and photographs to SIS alerts even when they have them available,” the report notes.

It also points out that another frequent finding relates to some of the functionalities introduced in 2013 by SIS II, in particular, that not all information included in SIS alerts is displayed to the end-users.