BRUSSELS (AP) — Extraordinary border controls inside Europe's passport-free travel area should not be extended because the refugee emergency is abating, the European Union's top migration official said Thursday.
Systematic ID checks are banned in the 26-nation passport-free travel zone known as the Schengen area, but the EU has made exceptions for Austria, Denmark, Germany, Sweden and non-EU country Norway to prolong ID checks at their borders. The countries say the checks — introduced in 2016 after around 1 million migrants entered Europe the previous year — are needed for security reasons.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel is keen to have the police checks continue, and there's no sign of Berlin backing off that stance as the country prepares for an election Sept. 24.
But EU Migration Commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos said that while the checks were justified, the reasons behind their introduction "are not there anymore."
"I believe it is the moment to go back to the normal function of Schengen," he said.
Avramopoulos believes the EU's external borders are stronger now. He said the bloc's migrant deal with Turkey is working well, with migrant flows from the country to the Greek islands down by 81 percent last month, compared with August 2016.
"During the last two years we have been working in crisis mode, now it's the moment to step out of the crisis," he told reporters.
In an interview earlier this month, Merkel said she's confident the EU's executive Commission has "an open ear for our arguments" to extend the controls beyond their Nov. 11 expiry date.
The controls began in Germany amid an influx of asylum-seekers that critics partly blame on the chancellor's welcoming approach to refugees.
Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere said Germany is sticking to its view that the extraordinary controls will remain necessary as long as weaknesses remain along the bloc's external borders.
"The German position is clear — as long as the external borders are not secure enough, there will also be the requirement for controls at the internal borders," he said. But he also said there is still plenty of time to debate the extension.
The European Commission, which polices EU laws, has allowed Germany and its four near neighbors in northern Europe to continue the measures twice since May 2016. But under EU rules, the measures cannot be extended anymore.
Wolfgang Sobotka, the interior minister of Austria, which holds a national election next month, rejected the idea of ending the border controls.
"To stop illegal migration and avoid unlawful border crossings, we must adapt the deadlines for internal border controls to the real challenges," Sobotka said.
"Although there is no acute danger of terror in Austria, we are not an isolated island and must be prepared for all eventualities," he added.
Slovak Interior Minister Robert Kalinak said that his country is no longer impacted by the migrant wave and suggested that the appeal to prolong controls is largely political, especially with upcoming elections in Germany and Austria.
"I think it is more a political question than the real necessity of these border controls. We will see after the elections, I think the situation will be pretty different," he said.
Vanessa Gera in Brussels and Geir Moulson in Berlin contributed.