The European Commission on Wednesday (5 May) backed extending internal border checks for six months in Austria, Denmark, Germany, Norway and Sweden.
The Brussels executive says the move is triggered by ongoing border security issues in Greece, which pose a broader threat to the passport-free Schengen zone.
“As long as serious deficiencies in [Greece’s] border management persist some internal border control measures should be maintained,” said EU commission vice-president Frans Timmermans.
The commission says Greece is still unable to carry out surveillance in the Aegean without the help from others. It also notes Greece doesn’t register incoming asylum seekers along its land borders.
Speaking alongside him at a press conference in Brussels, EU migration commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos said the plan was to lift all the internal checks by the end of year.
“By the end of this year, the Schengen zone will be formally normalised,” said Avramopoulos.
Greek authorities earlier this year refuted the border criticism after the EU commission said Athens “had seriously neglected its obligations”.
Greece is struggling with thousands of people stranded inside its territory after EU states failed to relocate them as promised last September.
The country is also grappling with EU bailout-imposed wage and pension cuts and huge unemployment.
The internal border shut downs were provoked, in part, by the some 1 million migrants that arrived last year in the EU.
Germany’s chancellor Angela Merkel has also been blamed for attracting the exodus after she announced an open door policy for Syrian refugees last August.
Merkel’s move provoked a political rift with her fiercest domestic critic, Bavarian prime minister Horst Seehofer.
Germany imposed a 10-day control at its Austrian border in September. It was then extended by 20 days and then again for another 20 days.
EU rules allow for border checks for six months, but they can be extended to two years if EU institutions determine that gaps at the external frontiers pose an existential threat to Schengen.
Germany’s border deadline is May, coinciding with the EU commission’s decision on 4 May to extend the checks for another six months.
Austria, Norway, and Sweden’s border checks were also set to expire in May.
Imposing internal border checks has raised fears about the future of free movement within the EU.
The commission estimates that setting up internal barriers everywhere in the EU would cost some €18 billion annually to its economy.