LUXEMBOURG: The EU called on Friday (Oct 13) for a "quick compromise" between countries pushing to extend checks on the internal borders of Europe's passport-free zone and those afraid such a move would kill off European unity and freedom.
Interior ministers from France, Germany and several other countries said checks within the Schengen zone, first introduced to tackle Europe's migrant crisis, are still needed to deal with terrorist threats.
However, Slovakia said the border checks, introduced IN 2015 as the migrant crisis peaked, were not needed for security and warned of undermining Schengen's freedoms.
"The proposed changes in the Schengen borders code will make Schengen stronger and more resilient," European home affairs commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos told a press conference after talks with the ministers in Luxembourg.
They will allow "member states to respond to security threats when needed while maintaining the essence of free movement of goods, people and services," he added.
"I reiterated to ministers today the need for a quick compromise on this issue," the Greek commissioner said.
However, a European diplomat told AFP that bridging the divide will take at least a year. Another diplomat said that, besides Slovakia, Slovenia, Hungary and Poland opposed prolonging checks.
"I'm very sad," Slovak interior minister Robert Kalinak told reporters as he expressed fears for Schengen's future.
The proposed change is "more political than a professional one," he said, adding there was no evidence that recent attacks were committed by people crossing Schengen borders.
Like Avramopoulos, Estonian Interior Minister Anders Anvelt played down the fears over Schengen's fate as he co-chaired the talks because his country holds the six-month rotating EU presidency.
"Rumours of the death of Schengen are exaggerated," Anvelt told the closing press conference.
The countries seeking longer border checks are France, Germany, Denmark, Austria, Sweden and non-EU Norway. All but France, which was hard hit by terrorist attacks, introduced the checks initially to control migration.
The European Commission, the executive branch of the 28-nation EU, had said several times in the last few months that the extensions must end in November as the migration crisis has eased.
The EU has sharply slowed arrivals of asylum seekers and migrants through closer cooperation with Turkey and Libya, gateways from the Middle East and Africa.
But in recent weeks, France, Germany and other countries notified the commission they would extend the checks for another six months beyond November for security reasons, citing current rules.
Countries in the 26-country Schengen travel area, 22 of them EU members, can currently reintroduce frontier checks for six months for security reasons, and two years if that is combined with a threat to borders such as Europe's migration crisis.
The Commission last month released plans to allow Schengen countries to reintroduce border controls for security reasons for up to three years.
Avramopoulos also announced that member states were half way toward meeting pledges to resettle at least 50,000 new asylum seekers directly from Africa, the Middle East and Turkey.
Such an approach is seen as key to discouraging smugglers from taking migrants on dangerous sea voyages to Europe, then causing chaos as they flood unchecked into the bloc.
"I am glad member states have already pledged 25,000 places and I'm confident by the end of October we will reach our target," Avramopoulos said.
The EU has already resettled 23,000 people from refugee camps in countries outside the EU under the scheme, particularly Turkey and Jordan, which were overwhelmed with people fleeing the war in Syria.