On Wednesday MEPs will vote on two legislative packages seeking to change the EU rules on asylum seekers and Schengen area of passport-free travel. Both of these pieces of legislation were put forward in the early days of the Arab Spring, when a sudden influx of refugees from North Africa cast doubt on the EU's existing rules.
Border states like Italy, Greece and Malta said the existing rules, in which member states can return asylum-seekers to the EU country they first entered, complained that the existing system was unfair.
Among other things, the new rules will put in place a monitoring system for any sudden influx of migrants and allow a suspension of the rules.
The changes to the Schengen rules were originally put forward in response to France's unilateral re-imposition of border checks at its border with Italy in wake of war refugees from the Arab Spring trying to make their way through Italy to France – a violation of Schengen rules. The changes, which will clarify when and how a member state can re-impose temporary checks at internal EU borders, are only now becoming law.
But many MEPs worry that both compromise deals reached with member states, which will be rubber-stamped on Wednesday, represent a scaling back of the EU's ambition in the area of free movement. Green MEPs have called the prerogative given to member states over the reintroduction of border controls “illogical” and that the rules on Asylum maintain a system where there is no solidarity between member states on dealing with the phenomenon.
A separate piece of legislation on providing law enforcement with passenger name records from intra-EU flights, which now seems likely to be rejected by the Parliament on Wednesday, is another area where there appears to be a lack of solidarity in travel and border policies. The proposal from the European Commission would enable member states to get access to other states passenger name records in the same way as is now done with the United States. But distrust over the scope of the legislation has engendered severe resistance from the Socialists, Liberals and Greens.
European Commissioners meeting in Strasbourg tomorrow will also be dealing with a thorny travel issue. They are expected to adopt a revision to the Single European Sky directive, in light of member states failure to meet a December 2012 deadline to unite the 27 national air traffic control spaces into nine functional blocs. The Commission has proposed to imbue the legislation with stronger measures to force the member states to comply and surmount the fierce resistance from national air traffic control authorities, who logically have been in no hurry to eliminate their own jobs.
In protest of the new proposal, Europe's air traffic controllers are set to go on strike on Wednesday, causing travel chaos across Europe.
Of course the fact that all these border and travel policies are coming to a head in Strasbourg this week is just a coincidence. But taken together, they seem to point to a Europe which is pulling apart rather than coming together. We see a ‘watering down' of the Schengen rules, distrust of the notion of sharing passenger data with other EU governments, a lack of solidarity on EU asylum policy and fierce resistance from entrenched national interests to uniting Europe's airspace.
As I make the torturous train journey from Brussels to Strasbourg, I wonder if Europe really is moving forward on making it easy to get around within the continent. Lately it seems like the trend is going in the opposite direction.