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Delays set to continue into Easter holidays despite temporary relaxation of systematic checks

Today, 12 April 2017, State Secretary Boštjan Šefic presented the conclusions of the meeting of the Working Party on Frontiers, which took place in Brussels, and the measures Slovenia will adopt regarding systematic checks at the external Schengen borders during the coming holidays.

"Slovenia is a member of the Schengen area and covers the border between Slovenia and Croatia, one of the most heavily burdened sections of the Schengen border." Being a bulwark on the southern border, Slovenia has an extremely important role in safeguarding the Schengen area. We have always taken the duty of protecting the border very seriously and responsibly and will continue to do so in the future.


On 7 April provisions of the Regulation introducing systematic checks at external Schengen borders became effective, which means that border checks now apply to third-country nationals and EU citizens alike. In practice this means that travellers are subjected to systematic identity and nationality checks as well as travel document checks against several databases: Schengen Information System (SIS), Interpol's database of Stolen and Lost Travel Documents and national databases for stolen, misappropriated, lost and invalidated travel documents.


The State Secretary pointed out that while the Regulation was being prepared, Slovenia consistently warned that the measure was disproportionate and would cause long delays once implemented. In our opinion, checks of all persons without any logical exceptions do not seem to be the type of measure which is proportionate to the aim of the Regulation. For this reason, Slovenia supported a wider array of exemptions from systematic checks (such as children under 12 and minors travelling with parents, students on organised excursions, elderly persons travelling in organised groups, holders of local border traffic permits). Unfortunately, we did not have sufficient support.


"Our fears have proved to be well-founded and the implementation of the Regulation has caused considerable difficulties, above all tailbacks at our border crossing points and a lot of anger among travellers. That said, increased traffic was not unexpected as Easter holidays had started in some countries. As a transit country, Slovenia sees an above-average amount of traffic at this time of the year. On average, the waiting times increased four- to five-fold and the scope of checks ten-fold compared to last year. "I wish to stress again that Slovenia did not abandon systematic checks at the border as some media reported; what we did last weekend was to adopt and carry out some measures to reduce waiting times at border crossing points. Such measures are provided for and permitted in the Schengen Borders Code."


In recent days we have had a number of meetings with representatives of the Republic of Croatia, both at the political and operational levels, since the Croatian side, as confirmed by their representatives, was faced with great difficulties, especially in the information system, technical equipment and number of officers at the border. We have sent a detailed report describing the situation at the border last weekend to the European Commission. There was a working meeting in Brussels today of the Working Party on Frontiers, which was aimed at an exchange of experience and clarification of outstanding issues that arose during the first days of the Regulation implementation.


The European Commission wanted to clarify certain provisions and resolve some doubts that arose in their implementation, which leads to different practices in different Member States. This is especially true of the notification procedure and the risk assessment when a Member State decides on targeted checks. The European Commission also wanted feedback on what had been happening on the ground since the Regulation's entry into force. Some Member States (Hungary, Italy, Bulgaria, Finland, Greece, Croatia) have already sent their notifications and explained the key reasons for relaxation of systematic checks. At the meeting Slovenia announced its intention to make a notification, which has by now been sent to the European Commission.
Representatives of Slovenia and Croatia presented the situation regarding the waiting times and the problems encountered. Some Member States, such as Portugal, are still analysing the situation and will decide on any measures subsequently. The European Commission drew a conclusion that there were some teething troubles in the implementation of the Regulation, and efforts will be made to overcome them. A revision of the Schengen Handbook was promised, which would include guidelines for the implementation of the Regulation. At the meeting Slovenia pointed out the necessity of drawing up common positions for the relaxation of systematic checks and for setting up a common practice of risk assessment elaboration. Member States have to carry out a risk assessment for every border crossing point, where so-called targeted checks will be decided on. We also reiterated our reservations we had repeatedly pointed out when the Regulation was being prepared.


Given that Easter holidays are coming up and with them, increased traffic at border crossing points, we will - based on the risk assessment, which we carry out for ever border crossing point separately - invoke the exemption under Article 8 of the Regulation - Relaxation of Border Checks. This means that at certain border crossing points at critical times we will check the persons who need to be checked based on security and operational indicators. The indicators will be included in the risk assessment and travellers with identified risk indicators will have to undergo systematic border checks. "In this way we want to enable bona fide travellers to cross the state border in as short a time as possible." During periods with less traffic the police will resume systematic checks of all travellers.


State Secretary Šefic wrapped up by saying that as a responsible member of the European Union and Schengen area, Slovenia fully implements its commitments and will continue to do so, "for we are aware that the security of not only Slovenian citizens but the entire European Union relies on our work. At the same time we want to make sure that the local population and travellers are not unduly inconvenienced."