Open borders: even more attractive after corona?
Freedom of travel within the Schengen area has been largely restored since the start of this week; only a few countries still face restrictions due to the coronavirus pandemic. June 14 also marked the 35th anniversary of the signing of the Schengen Agreement. Journalists celebrate the return to freedom of travel and question the policy of closing and reopening borders.
Closures were pointless
Entry and exit restrictions only make sense in exceptional cases during a pandemic, Polityka concludes:
“Behind this irrational step taken by some governments lies the deep conviction that closing borders is an effective way of combating a pandemic. ... In Poland, even many critics of the ruling PiS party believe the government did the right thing by quickly closing the borders in March. They couldn't be more wrong. ... Closing borders only makes sense in one case: if the restrictions are far less stringent on one side than on the other. In Europe, that was only the case in border areas where people shopped in the neighbouring country because their stores were already closed. But such disparate regulations usually only lasted a few days.”
More coordination, less symbolism!
Neue Zürcher Zeitung also questions the usefulness of closing borders to contain a pandemic: Above all this measure was a tranquiliser for the nation. The state wanted to signal that it had the situation under control and that the population should stay at home. Epidemiologically, however, the benefits of this drastic measure are controversial. There are hardly any safe islands left in a globalised world. ... But the last few months have clearly shown how much social and economic damage border closures cause. ... Many cities and regions in Europe have grown ever closer to each other. In the event of a second wave of coronavirus the interior ministries should therefore focus on differentiated and above all coordinated solutions.
How we learned to love freedom of travel
A precious element of Europe is back, Sme writes in delight:
“Corona has been vanquished by the longing for freedom and normality. Although there will still be various forms, tests and quarantines, the Schengen area will soon barely differ from how Europeans experienced it until last year. Even a potential second wave of the virus would not change the easing of measures now taking place. A few months of closures with all the complications they involved should have convinced everyone that Schengen is a great achievement which we only came to appreciate when it stopped working. At the very least, that is a positive result of the virus.”
Stringent controls needed
Spain is to reopen its borders to visitors from the Schengen area in a week's time. La Vanguardia urges caution:
“Despite the hotspots of infection that have emerged in Spain, the major risk of a new outbreak of the pandemic lies in the reopening of borders, particularly to countries outside the EU. ... Consequently, when reopening the borders after three months of lockdown we should demand the strictest possible controls for visitors arriving in Spain, and efficient coordination among the authorities of all the countries involved. In order to reassure the population, the government should explain its plans and, if necessary, put them up for debate. And it should also demand a standardised health protocol for all countries in the Schengen area.”
Passed the acid test
In view of a popular initiative by the right-wing Swiss People's Party to limit immigration, Le Temps stresses:
“Instead of inflicting a fatal blow to European integration, as sovereignists and populists had hoped, the coronavirus crisis has heightened awareness of the need to reconcile borders and free movement, which are both prerequisites for a strong internal market. … Anyone who says that closing one's borders will help against all evils is wrong. On the contrary: the pandemic has shown that freedom of movement can be selectively restricted without being completely abandoned while stringently observing the treaties. Hence the resilience of the Schengen area shows that it does not pose a threat to national security. ... And that it deserves to be defended in the context of reforms.”
Internal freedom, external sealing off
The Schengen Agreement also marked the birth of Europe's external borders, taz points out:
“Five years after the signing of the agreement in Schengen, the states concluded another treaty: the Schengen Implementation Convention. ... In it the rules were established for the entry, expulsion and freedom of movement of people from other states. The countries introduced stronger surveillance of the external borders, cooperation between police and judiciary and an information system in which they collect data on visas and border controls. ... Schengen should be remembered correctly: as an agreement on open internal and closed external borders. This is the only way to understand how it could become a European normality for people to drown in the Mediterranean.”