European member states will discuss Friday whether to extend internal border checks for up to two years to help many of them cope with record migrant inflows, EU sources said.
European Union interior ministers meeting in Brussels will discuss longer-term checks within the passport-free Schengen zone that benefits most of the EUs 28 member countries, they added.
Countries like Germany, Austria and Sweden in the last few months have all reintroduced temporary border controls as they were overwhelmed by the flow of asylum seekers, most of whom entered the EU through Greece.
Under current Schengen rules, countries can impose border checks for no longer than six months.
An EU diplomatic source said Luxembourg, which currently holds the bloc’s rotating presidency, had put on the agenda for Friday’s meeting a proposal to extend such Schengen checks for up to two years.
This would be possible under article 26 of the Schengen code.
"Such a recommendation may be adopted in exceptional circumstances to address a situation where a Schengen evaluation has identified persistent serious deficiencies relating to external border control," said a draft of the proposal seen by AFP.
The diplomatic source said longer-term reintroductions of border controls "can only be done following a long process of several months," which would require a report from the European Commission, the bloc’s executive arm.
"That’s why we must speak about it now," the source said, adding that the ministers would not vote on the issue on Friday.
"It’s not a suspension of Schengen that is being raised, it is an initiative to make sure that states will not leave the Schengen zone after March, if the situation has not improved with Greece," another diplomat said.
Schengen includes 22 of the EUs 28 member states – all except Britain, Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Ireland and Romania – plus non-EU members Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland.