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Theresa May tells Swedish media she is close to deal on citizens’ rights and financial offer

Speaking to a Swedish newspaper on Thursday, British Prime Minister Theresa May suggested that she hoped to offer a financial deal to the EU next month – and claimed that all UK ministers were behind her vision for Brexit.

Theresa May tells Swedish media she is close to deal on citizens' rights and financial offer
British Prime Minister Theresa May arrives at the EU summit. Photo: AP Photo/Virginia Mayo/TT

The British PM is in Sweden for the EU social summit in Gothenburg on Friday, where she is expected to come under pressure to move faster on Brexit plans.

READ MORE: Five things to look out for at the EU summit in Sweden

Speaking to Sweden's Dagens Nyheter by e-mail, May said: “As [Minister for Brexit] David Davis said last week, we have made significant progress on all the issues that must be resolved.”

Key issues include the rights for EU citizens living in the UK and vice versa, as well as the 'Brexit divorce bill', or the amount of money the UK will have to pay the bloc.

The EU wants the UK to pay its share of the union's long-term budget, including money for pensions, international aid, and other expenses which could add up to around €60 billion in total, but May is under pressure at home to reduce the total amount.

In the interview, May reiterated a point made at her Florence speech, in which she said Britain would make 'transition payments' in 2019 and 2020 and that it would live up to commitments made during the membership period. The article was headlined 'May ready to give EU new offer in Brexit negotiations', but the language used by the British PM was more guarded.

“Efforts to identify those commitments is progress,” she said, and added that the European Council's mid-December meeting in Brussels was “the next important time as we are working towards.”

She also asserted that the British public supported the government's delivery of a good Brexit, “regardless of how they voted”.

READ ALSO: How Brexit made me quit my job, pack up my life, and move to Sweden

May denied reports of cabinet rifts over Brexit policy, saying: “The government is united around the vision I laid out in my speech in Florence”, but adding that she also had “a very full and, yes, challenging domestic agenda”. 

This is despite the fact that on Wednesday, May told MPs in a parliamentary debate: “There is of course a lively debate going on in this place and that's right and proper and that's important […] there are strong views held on different sides of the argument about the European Union.” 

In her answers to DN, May called for a “bold and ambitious economic partnership” between the EU and the UK, and spoke about Sweden as a particularly close ally.

“The British and Swedish peoples have a unity based on our shared pragmatism but also a belief in social justice […] We want these ties to be deeper,” she said.

It is unclear what rights Swedes in the UK will have once Britain leaves the bloc or vice versa, and Sweden's minister for EU affairs and trade said at the start of this year that she had heard of many Swedes experiencing xenophobia in the UK after the Brexit vote.

READ MORE: Swedish minister reveals stories of xenophobia towards Swedes in the UK

May told DN she thought the EU and UK were “very close” to a reciprocal agreement on citizens' rights and stressed that no one currently living legally in the UK would be asked to leave.

Swedish citizens should feel welcome, she said, adding: “If there are situations where citizens are offended then I condemn it in the strongest terms”. 

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EXPLAINED: Which Schengen area countries have border controls in place and why?

Borders within Europe's Schengen area are meant to be open but several countries have checks in place but are they legal and will they be forced to scrap them? Claudia Delpero explains the history and what's at stake.

EXPLAINED: Which Schengen area countries have border controls in place and why?

The European Court of Justice has recently said that checks introduced by Austria at the borders with Hungary and Slovenia during the refugee crisis of 2015 may not be compatible with EU law.

Austria has broken the rules of the Schengen area, where people can travel freely, by extending temporary controls beyond 6 months without a new “serious threat”.

But Austria is not the only European country having restored internal border checks for more than six months.

Which countries have controls in place and what does the EU Court decision mean for them? 

When can EU countries re-introduce border checks?

The Schengen area, taken from the name of the Luxembourgish town where the convention abolishing EU internal border controls was signed, includes 26 states: the EU countries except for Ireland, Bulgaria, Cyprus, Croatia and Romania, plus Iceland, Norway, Lichtenstein and Switzerland, which are not EU members.

The Schengen Borders Code sets the rules on when border controls are permitted. It says that checks can be temporarily restored where there is a “serious threat to public policy or internal security”, from the organisation of a major sport event to a terrorist attack such as those seen in Paris in November 2015.

However, these checks should be a “last resort” measure, should be limited to the period “strictly necessary” to respond to the threat and not last more than 6 months.

In exceptional circumstances, if the functioning of the entire Schengen area is at risk, EU governments can recommend that one or more countries reintroduce internal border controls for a maximum of two years. The state concerned can then continue to impose checks for another six months if a new threat emerges. 

Which countries keep border checks in place?

Countries reintroducing border controls have to notify the European Commission and other member states providing a reason for their decision. 

Based on the list of notifications, these countries currently have controls in place at least at some of their borders: 

Norway – until 11 November 2022 at ferry connections with Denmark, Germany and Sweden. These measures have been in place since 2015 due to terrorist threats or the arrival of people seeking international protection and have sometimes extended to all borders.

Austria – until November 2022 11th, since 2015, at land borders with Hungary and with Slovenia due to risks related to terrorism and organised crime and “the situation at the external EU borders”. 

Germany – until November 11th 2022, since November 12th 2021, at the land border with Austria “due to the situation at the external EU borders”.

Sweden – until November 11th 2022, since 2017, can concern all borders due to terrorist and public security threats and “shortcomings” at the EU external borders. 

Denmark – until November 11th 2022, since 2016, can concern all internal borders due to terrorist and organised criminality threats or migration.

France – until October 31st 2022 since 2015, due to terrorist threats and other events, including, since 2020, the Covid-19 pandemic.

Estonia – until May 21st 2022, from April 22nd 2022, at the border with Latvia “to facilitate the entry and reception of people arriving from Ukraine”.

Norway, Austria, Germany and France also said they are operating checks on non-EU citizens. 

Can Schengen rules survive?

Despite the exceptional nature of these measures, there have been continuous disruptions to the free movement of people in the Schengen area in the past 15 years. 

Since 2006, there have been 332 notifications of border controls among Schengen countries, with increasing frequency from 2015. In addition, 17 countries unilaterally restored border controls at the start of the pandemic. 

In December 2021, the Commission proposed to reform the system to ensure that border controls remain an exception rather than becoming the norm. 

According to the proposals, countries should consider alternatives to border controls, such as police cooperation and targeted checks in border regions. 

When controls are restored, governments should take measures to limit their impacts on border areas, especially on the almost 1.7 million people who live in a Schengen state but work in another, and on the internal market, especially guaranteeing the transit of “essential” goods. 

Countries could also conclude bilateral agreements among themselves for the readmission of people crossing frontiers irregularly, the Commission suggested. 

If border controls have been in place for 6 months, any notification on their extension should include a risk assessment, and if restrictions are in place for 18 months, the Commission will have to evaluate their necessity. Temporary border controls should not exceed 2 years “unless for very specific circumstances,” the Commission added. 

At a press conference on April 27th, European Commissioner for Home Affairs Ylva Johansson said the EU Court ruling about Austria is in line with these proposals.

“What the court says is that member states have to comply with the time limit that is in the current legislation. Of course we can propose another time limit in the legislation… and the court also says that it’s necessary for member states, if they would like to prolong [the border controls] to really do the risk assessment on whether it’s really necessary… and that’s exactly what’s in our proposal on the Schengen Border Code.”

Criticism from organisations representing migrants

It is now for the European Parliament and EU Council to discuss and adopt the new rules.

A group of migration organisations, including Caritas Europe, the Danish Refugee Council, Oxfam International and the Platform for International Cooperation on Undocumented Migrants (PICUM) have raised concerns and called on the EU institutions to modify the Commission proposals.

In particular, they said, the “discretionary nature” of controls in border regions risk to “disproportionately target racialised communities” and “practically legitimise ethnic and racial profiling and expose people to institutional and police abuse.”

Research from the EU Fundamental Rights Agency in 2021, the groups noted, shows that people from an ‘ethnic minority, Muslim, or not heterosexual’ are disproportionately affected by police stops.

The organisations also criticize the definition of people crossing borders irregularly as a threat and a new procedure to “transfer people apprehended… in the vicinity of the border area” to the authorities of the country where it is assumed they came from without any individual assessment. 

The article is published in cooperation with Europe Street News, a news outlet about citizens’ rights in the EU and the UK.

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