Brussels-With the rapid spread of new variants of the coronavirus, major countries are reintroducing border controls. This practice has become the new normal in Europe during the pandemic and has gradually moved away from what was once the world’s largest free-moving area.
Fearing about new highly contagious variants first discovered in the UK and South Africa, Germany and Belgium both introduced new border restrictions last week, adding to the steps other countries have already taken.
The European Union regards free movement as the basic pillar of the increasingly integrated African continent, but after ten years of terrorism and immigration crises that have tested this commitment, the easy border control measures that countries can take make it bear new challenges. pressure.
Ursula von der, President of the European Commission, said: “Last spring, we had 17 different member states that adopted border measures. The lesson we learned was that it did not stop the virus, but it did not stop the virus. The land has disrupted the single market and caused huge problems,” Lane told the news media this week. “The virus tells us that closing the border will not stop it.”
However, many countries seem to have found uncontrollable retraction of borders. The speech by Ms. von der Lehn and the suggestion of the spokesperson of the European Commission that the new restrictions should be reversed, triggered a counterattack by Germany, which echoes the new normal between EU countries in the context of the coronavirus: our borders, Our business.
The German Interior Minister Horst Seehofer told the tabloid “Bild”: “We are fighting this mutated virus on the border with the Czech Republic and Austria.” He said intermittently: “The committee” We should be supported, and the spokesperson should not accept cheap suggestions.”
The borderless transportation system of people and goods is called Schengen in Europe. In the small town of Luxembourg, five countries signed a treaty establishing its principles in 1985, which is the core of the European Union today.
Today, the Schengen area includes 22 of the 27 EU member states and four neighboring countries (Iceland, Lichtenstein, Norway and Switzerland). In principle, travelers can freely cross the border here without inspection or other requirements.
Joining the Schengen area has always been regarded as the pinnacle of European integration. Together with joining the common euro currency, it is also the desire of countries to join the European Union.
Through its 35-year long history, the Schengen system has been deformed and deepened, but like many other EU desires for unity, it is vulnerable to setbacks in times of crisis.
“My biggest concern-I have been dealing with Schengen for many years-Schengen is in serious danger,” said Tanja Fajon, the Slovenian member of the European Parliament, who is the head of the parliamentary Schengen review team.
In the past decade, terrorist attacks in EU countries and the abuse of the noble freedom of Schengen by activists who jumped from one country to another indicate that law enforcement cooperation and intelligence sharing cannot keep up with European countries’ open borders.
From 2015 to 2016, the arrival of more than 1 million refugees fleeing the Syrian war brought a more decisive blow to Schengen City. Many member states that do not want to share the burden have stepped up their territories, isolated themselves, and used countries outside the EU (such as Greece and Italy) as buffer zones.
The impact of the Syrian refugee crisis marked a structural shift in European border politics. The borderless romantic ideals of Europe that was once a united, prosperous and free Europe were seized by the right and the extreme right, but were instead treated as threats.
After decades of hard work, even moderate politicians have begun to think that European internal borders are desirable.
Ms. Fagio said: “Freedom of movement is a symbol of European integration. This is the most obvious result of the integration that people really feel.”
She added: “Now, it is not just a pandemic that threatens it-we have been in a Schengen crisis since 2015, when we began to see that the internal border control system was used to protect the national interests of the refugees, but There is no real interest.”
The seemingly unstoppable spread of the coronavirus is taking a third blow to Europe’s dream of open borders.
Marie De Somer, an expert at the Brussels-based Institute’s European Policy Center, said: “Schengen is not a system with good crisis response capabilities.” “It can work in clear weather, but At the moment of stress, we saw that it had flaws and deficiencies in functionality, and Covid is a good example.”
Countries belonging to Schengen countries have a clear right to reintroduce checks at their borders, but they need to clear some legal barriers to do so, and they have no intention of keeping these checks for a long time.
Ms. DeSomer said that flexibility is deeply ingrained in the Schengen area due to the importance of national borders to sovereignty. This is an intentional part of the design.
She said: “But the biggest risk is that these measures will continue to exceed the original purpose and will erode the system.” Once the crisis subsides, it will be more difficult to return to the previous state of open borders.
One factor that may help keep the border open is that even a small closure has an immediate and huge impact on the economy-this reflects how the group’s daily operations have been without borders for decades built.
Since Sunday, the only people allowed to enter Germany from the Czech Republic or Austria’s Tyrol are Germans who live in Germany and are engaged in freight or basic work. These people have originated in the UK and the coronavirus variants are on the rise and work in Germany. . Everyone must register and show a negative coronavirus test result before entering.
However, there are thousands of commuters from Austria and the Czech Republic working in Germany every day, and long queues are formed after the new check takes effect. By the end of the week, various corporate groups had issued desperate letters asking Germany to relax or lift restrictions and warned that seemingly limited and targeted actions had caused serious damage to the supply chain.
Austrian Foreign Minister Alexander Schellenberg said: “These measures have a very serious impact on the whole of Austria, so they are clearly in contradiction with the “lessons” learned since last spring.
However, even in a hypothetical near future, when most Europeans have been vaccinated and eventually controlled the coronavirus, the future of Schengen may be questioned.
The European Commission has been recommending changes to fundamentally make it more difficult for individual members to introduce barriers. However, several countries, led by France, argue that in order to maintain internal freedom of movement, the external boundaries of the group must be impenetrable. This idea is often referred to as the “European Fortress” and is strengthened by increasing the budget of Frontex, the EU border agency.
These ideas were accompanied by recommendations to expand internal border surveillance to replace obvious physical barriers and inspections.
European Member of Parliament Fahon said that the fight for the future of the Schengen is still continuing, as the European Commission is preparing to present a strategic document on the subject later this year.
“The question is, what kind of Schengen will it be?” Ms. Fahon said. “A hidden camera at the border, shooting on license plates or other suspicious technical tools?”
Despite this, Ms. DeSomer still believes that the free movement system is an important long-term ally: the youth of the African continent.
She said: “Young people say that the Covid Crisis is their first experience of living in borderless Europe.” “It makes them appreciate borderlessness.”
Christopher Schutzer From Berlin and Monika Pronczuk From Brussels.