Expulsion from Belgium and Schengen bans for anti-war protestors

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- SIS used to curb dissent; Schengen framework used to curb free movement

Last Monday, 17 February 2003, Greenpeace volunteers peacefully demonstrated against the US shipment of military equipment to Iraq leaving through Antwerp harbour. A number were arrested, despite the peaceful nature of their protests, all were released without charge.

The following day, the Belgian Ministry of Interior issued expulsion orders and indefinite bans on re-entry into the Schengen area against seven international Greenpeace volunteers from Canada, Mexico, New Zealand, Hungary, Czech Republic and Slovakia.

Greenpeace argue that the orders contravene the Schengen Treaty provisions and that the protest was 'lawful' and covered by Articles 10 and 11 of the European Convention on Human Rights (freedom of expression and assembly).

In a letter to the Belgian Ministry of the Interior, Greenpeace say:

"The Greenpeace volunteers did not present a threat to the public order or national security of Belgium and other Schengen States. In fact their demonstration was in solidarity with the hundreds of thousands of members of the public in Belgium and the Schengen Treaty area who peacefully expressed their opposition to the war on Iraq on February 15th. To issue a Schengen ban against these seven activists is clearly discriminatory and a violation of their rights of expression and freedom of movement"

Greenpeace cyberactivist site

SIS used to curb dissent

In issuing Schengen re-entry bans to the activists, the Belgian authorities are likely to have registered them on the Schengen Information System (SIS), to which the authorities of 13 of the 15 EU countries and Norway and Iceland have access (plans are underway for the UK and Ireland to join). This is not the first time that Greenpeace activists have been placed on the SIS. In 1995, a New Zealander, Stephanie Mills, was refused access to the entire Schengen area. It transpired that France had entered a number of international Greenpeace activists on the SIS as threats to national security; though after a lengthy process their lawyers succeeded in having their names removed.

Hundreds of activists names have been put on the SIS after protests in Salzburg (Austria), Genoa (Italy) and Barcelona (Spain). In most cases activists do not know they names are on the SIS until they attempt to travel again to a protest.

National authorities exercise great discretion over whether to register individuals on the SIS. Sweden and Norway are believed to have registered protestors after the Gothenburg demonstrations. Plans for SIS II are currently being developed and propose a greater scope for the SIS in the public order field, including a database of "violent troublemakers" and mechanism to prevent them travelling to international demonstrations.

Statewatch News online: Protestors database
Statewatch News online: SIS II proposals

Schengen provisions used to curb free movement

Under Article 2 of the 1990 Convention implementing the Schengen Agreement, checks at the internal borders of the participating states were abolished. Paragraph 2 of Article 2 allows for internal border checks to be reintroduced:

"Where public policy or national security so require, however, a Contracting Party may, after consulting the other Contracting Parties, decide that for a limited period national border checks appropriate to the situation will be carried out at internal borders".

Research by Statewatch, shows that the member states have invoked this exception at least 26 times over the past two years. On at least 16 of the occasions border checks were reintroduced to counter demonstrations taking place at international summits. This policy does not just mean that identity checks take place during the limited periods, but that hundreds (and in some cases thousands) of people are refused entry to the member states to which they are travelling - a massive restriction of the EU's four supposed fundamental freedoms (of movement).

Spain has used Article 2(2) more than any other state. It prevented protestors joining demonstrations against the EU on four occasions during its presidency of the EU, as well preventing Spanish protestors travelling to the Biarritz summit during the French presidency. Spain also introduced specific border checks over the Christmas period when senior politicians were holidaying in the mountains.

During 2001, the EU announced that it would draw-up common rules on the use of Article 2(2). This is likely to be in the form of an EC Regulation based on Article 62(1) of the TEC. It remains to be seen whether the future measure will do anything to prevent the apparently arbitrary use of Article 2(2) and uphold supposed commitments to free movement - or whether it will continue to be used as a mechanism to curb another supposedly fundamental right: the right to protest

Statewatch table listing all the available details regarding the use of Article 2(2) (pdf file)

This table was first published in Statewatch European Monitor (vol ¾, Feb 2003) and is updated and maintained on the SEMDOC website (and details every instance in which Article 2(2) has been invoked.

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