European countries, including Switzerland, have agreed to tighten controls at external borders in the Schengen area to prevent more extremists from coming in. The move comes one week after 130 people died in attacks in Paris.
These attacks showed that “terrorists could also come from within the Schengen area,” said Swiss President Simonetta Sommarugaexternal link, according to the Swiss news agency.
She made the comments after attending an emergency meeting of European Union interior and justice ministersexternal link aimed at pushing for the next steps to increase security and prevent more bloodshed.
The coordinated attacks on the evening of November 13 on the French capital have been claimed by Islamic State and have sent shockwaves around the world.
Switzerland has signed up to the Schengen Agreement, which allows for passport-free travel within its 26 signatories, which is why Sommaruga was attending the meeting.
Until now, checks at external border concentrated on people from third-party countries, so non-Schengen members, Sommaruga said. The new proposal is likely to upgrade these controls, meaning documents are systematically checked against criminal and security databases.
Sommaruga said that checks would be extended to include individuals enjoying the right of free movement – so those from Schengen states when coming into the Schengen area.
Switzerland already compares the documents from all arrivals with the Interpol database, said Sommaruga. “This is technically and legally possible. And above all, it makes sense,” she said.
A new development is to check with Europol (the European Union’s law enforcement agency) databases, as well as with the Schengen Information System (SIS), she added. Switzerland has outer Schengen borders through its airports.
Exchange of information
There needs to be better exchange of information with Europol, said Sommaruga, who holds the justice portfolio.
The changes come after it emerged that some of the Belgian and French suspects involved in the Paris attacks had travelled to fight in Syria and returned, apparently undetected, to Europe.
Officials have said some may have taken advantage of the large influx of refugees from Syria over the summer to evade normal border controls.
Ministers also agreed on Friday to plans for an airline passenger name registry, as well as a clampdown on arms trafficking.
“Switzerland is part of the European security area,” said Sommaruga. “If Switzerland wants to ensure its security… we must do this together with other European states.”
swissinfo.ch with agencies