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Schengen/Dublin: the issues

On June 5 Swiss voters will decide whether to sign up to two European Union agreements on justice and asylum cooperation.

This content was published on May 4, 2005 - 16:34

swissinfo takes a look at the Schengen and Dublin accords and what they entail.

In the 1980s there was a debate within the EU over the meaning of the concept of the "free movement of persons", which was incorporated in the treaty establishing the European Community.

While some states wanted to remove internal borders altogether, others argued that this should apply to EU citizens only and that internal border checks should be kept as a means of distinguishing between citizens of the EU and non-EU nationals.

As no consensus could be reached France, Germany, Belgium, Luxembourg and the Netherlands decided in 1985 to create a territory without internal borders. This became known as the "Schengen area". The name was taken from the name of the town in Luxembourg where the first agreements were signed on June 14, 1985.

Common border, common rules

A further convention came into effect in 1995, creating a single external border. Common rules regarding visas, asylum rights and checks at external borders were adopted to allow the free movement of people within the signatory states.

By 1997 the Schengen area included 13 countries. Only Britain and Ireland remained outside, although they have since signed up to some aspects of the agreement.

The follow-up convention included a number of measures to improve security: strengthening controls at EU external borders; a common policy for short-stay visas; Europe-wide coordination of asylum proceedings; improved cross-border police cooperation, and improved cooperation in the area of criminal justice.

Central to Schengen is the pan-European electronic computer network system, SIS. It was set up to allow all police stations and consular agents from Schengen group member states to access data on specific individuals, or vehicles and objects which are lost or stolen.

The Swiss government sees SIS as an important tool in combating cross-border crime and believes that membership of Schengen is vital so that Switzerland can access current European investigation data.

"In the event of a 'go-it-alone’ policy, Switzerland risks becoming a weak point in European Security," the Switzerland-EU integration office warns.

Asylum applications

The Dublin Convention of June 15,1990, to which all EU member states are party, provides a mechanism for determining the state responsible for examining asylum applications lodged in an EU state.

Under the Treaty of Dublin only one country in the EU ever has the responsibility for conducting proceedings in a given asylum case.

The advantage for the EU is that multiple asylum applications are no longer possible, meaning less bureaucracy and strain on the asylum system.

Faced with the problem of identifying would-be asylum seekers who had already lodged asylum applications in other member states, EU immigration ministers agreed in 1991 to establish a community-wide system for comparing the fingerprints of applicants.

This resulted in Eurodac, a computerised database to which member states can transmit relevant data. According to the EU, the Eurodac system enables member states to identify asylum seekers and individuals who have crossed an external frontier "in an irregular manner".

By comparing fingerprints member states can determine whether an asylum seeker or a foreign national found to be illegally present within a member state has previously claimed asylum in another EU country.

The Swiss authorities say that as a signatory to the Dublin Convention, Switzerland will be able to identify second-time asylum applicants and return them to the country of their first application.

This should ease the burden on Switzerland’s asylum system, they say, by reducing the number of asylum procedures that the country has to initiate.

swissinfo

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