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Is coronavirus disrupting Schengen?

Written by on 6 avril 2020

The free movement of goods, of capital services and of people is fundamental for the European Common Market. But, due to the spread of Covid-19 throughout Europe, many border restrictions have been imposed, notably the restriction of movement for people in the Schengen area. To speak about the future of border restrictions inside the European Union, we welcome Filip Nerad, EU Affairs Analyst at Český Rozhlas, Czech public radio broadcaster, and Ex-Correspondent in Brussels.

In one of your articles, you wrote that the longer the border restrictions are in place, the harder it will be to lift them. Why do you think this is?

Because people, and also politicians, will get used to these controls, to this closure, and when you get used to something, you stop caring about it. We could see that during and after the migration crisis, some of the Schengen countries such Germany, Austria, Denmark and others, used this exception to the Schengen codex and they reinstalled controls on their borders and prolonged this exception several times. This exception is valid still nowadays. Now we have more border controls due to the coronavirus spread. And we don’t hear any criticisms on the migration crisis border controls anymore. So I am afraid that this will happen again with the coronavirus crisis. Lots of people will get used to it and it will become new normal, that there would be some kind of controls on the intra schengen borders.

Will these border restrictions and the way they undermine free movement affect the future development of the European Union?

Of course, when this will be new normal, then it will become a big problem for the European project in my opinion. For example the Czech republic needs to have access to open axis all over the Europe for their goods. The czech economy is highly dependant on the EU market, with some 60% of our export going into the EU and 80% into the Eurozone. And when there will be some checks and controls on the border, it will have some kind of affect on czech economy. So for the Czech republic it is necessity to return to the old Schengen, to this open area in the EU.

Can European commission prevent the closing of borders between member states?

I am afraid not much, because now lots of member states did unilateral steps, so for the European institutions it is status quo. What they can do is to try to have the green lines on the borders, to try to ensure some basic free movement across the borders at least for the goods like medicine and so on. Right now, some movement of goods in the EU is in some way still going. But I am afraid that the European commission has no power to convince member states and simply say ‘okay, let’s stop it and let’s re-open the borders’. The border management is the authority of national state. And everyone in Europe is now trying to stop the disease with every tool they have and closing borders is one of them. This status quo will stay at least for several weeks or months and European commission can only call on member states to ensure at least some free movement, but that’s all.


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