FECL 42 (March 1996):

DISPUTES BETWEEN MEMBER STATES BURDEN SCHENGEN COOPERATION

A Schengen mini-summit on drugs planned for early March was called off on 14 February after vehement new French criticism of Dutch drugs policies. On 21 February, the Schengen Executive Committee gathered in The Hague after threats by Spain to suspend judicial cooperation under the Schengen Agreement because of Belgium's refusal to extradite a Basque couple allegedly involved in ETA terrorism.

 

Drugs summit postponed sine die

The planned "drug summit" of the five founder member states of Schengen was abruptly cancelled by French President Chirac with the explanation that there was currently "no prospect of the sort of concrete achievement expected of a summit". Stung by the French move, the Dutch have so far pointedly refrained from suggesting a new date for the meeting.

France, which is highly critical of the liberal Dutch approach to soft drugs, has long been pressing for substantial changes in domestic Dutch policy. The French Minister for European Affairs, Michel Barnier, summed up his government's stance as follows: "What a state does on its own territory should not have detrimental effects on the others. The Netherlands will have to seal their territory." Mr Barnier has specifically called on the Dutch to introduce a mechanism to inspect containers in the port of Rotterdam, to reduce the number of "coffee shops" and clamp down on an estimated 35,000 - 50,000 Dutch cannabis growers.

On 25 March, France announced the long awaited abolition of controls at its internal Schengen borders with Spain and Germany, but insisted that checks at the borders with the Benelux-countries would be maintained as long as the Dutch refused to adapt their drugs policy to French demands.

German assessments of Dutch drug policies are more contradictory. While six Social Democrat Länder governments recently sent a letter to the Dutch government encouraging it to continue its "pragmatic and humane" policy, the Christian Democrat-led Federal Government in Bonn complains that between 50 and 90 per cent of all seized drug imports reach Germany via the port of Rotterdam. The Belgians too are uneasy about the Rotterdam-Lille "drugs highway" which crosses their country, but Belgian Prime Minister Dehaene nonetheless recently defended the Dutch neighbours against the "aggressive" tones from Paris and is highly critical of the French refusal to abolish internal border controls.

 

Demonstration of unity against terrorism

An extraordinary meeting of the Schengen Executive Committee (ExComm) took place on 21 February in The Hague. The meeting was called by the special request of Spain following a decision of the Belgian Ministry of Justice to set free a Basque couple whose extradition Spain had sought. The couple is suspected by the Spanish judiciary of having provided "logistic assistance" to ETA by accommodating a terrorist commando in their home. Furious at the decision, the Spanish government threatened to break off its further participation in the Schengen Group's judiciary cooperation. In the opinion of Spain, the Belgian refusal to approve the "automatic" extradition of terrorist suspects to another Schengen state amounts to an "unfriendly act, inadmissible within a common territory consisting of democratic states".

While the ExComm failed in bringing about a full reconciliation between Spain and Belgium, it succeeded in persuading the Spanish government not to suspend judicial cooperation within the Schengen framework.

In an obvious effort to give some moral satisfaction to Spain, the ExComm ministers adopted a common statement condemning "with utmost firmness . . . all forms of terrorism".

The ExComm further agreed to "urgently examine" the implementation of Article 60 of the Schengen Implementing Agreement regarding extradition and to press for a speedy signing of the planned EU Convention on Extradition before June 1996. Spain is strongly advocating the inclusion of a provision in the convention permitting the automatic extradition of persons suspected of some form of involvement in terrorism. Several member states are, however, reluctant to accept such a regulation, since it could result in an obligation to extradite persons accused of political offences (see FECL No.40: "K.4 Committee Draft Convention on Extradition").

 

Sources: German Federal Interior Ministry: Report on the extraordinary meeting of the Schengen Executive Committee on 21.2.96, Bonn, 28.2.96; Libération, 22.2.96; Le Monde, 23.2.96; Neue Zürcher Zeitung, 16/17.3.96, 26.3.96; Migration News Sheet No. 156/96-03 (MNS is available at: 172-174, rue Joseph II, B-1000 Brussels, Tel/Fax: +32/2 2303750).