EU nations agree border-free Schengen Area reform, France says

Informal Meeting of Ministers for Home Affairs
French President Emmanuel Macron gestures at the Informal Meeting of Ministers for Home Affairs in Tourcoing, France, February 2, 2022. Yoan Valat/Pool via REUTERS

LILLE, France, Feb 3 (Reuters) - European Union countries agreed on Thursday to oversee the border-free Schengen area through regular ministerial meetings, France said, strengthening political management of the area in the same way euro zone gatherings steer economic policy.

Ministers meeting in Lille also agreed with another French proposal, which is to take a step-by-step approach on plans for a reform of the EU's asylum rules, long stalled over disagreements between the member states, French Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin added.

National security concerns, waves of migration and, most recently, the coronavirus pandemic have led to the re-emergence of border controls in the Schengen Area and criticism of how it functions, eroding what had been hailed as a milestone achievement in Europe's post-World War Two integration.

Speaking to EU justice and interior ministers on Wednesday ahead of the meeting, French President Emmanuel Macron said what he dubbed the "Schengen Council" would evaluate how the area was working but would also take joint decisions and facilitate coordination in times of crisis.

"This Council can become the face of a strong, protective Europe that is comfortable with controlling its borders and therefore its destiny," Macron said.

Its inaugural meeting will take place when the EU's justice and home affairs ministers next gather on March 3, Darmanin told a news conference.

The Schengen Area is the world's largest passport-free zone, allowing the unrestricted movement of people between 26 European countries.

Reporting by Ingrid Melander, Benoit Van Overstraeten, Sabine Siebold, Writing by Ingrid Melander Editing by Gareth Jones, Angus MacSwan, William Maclean

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