France, a founding signatory to the Schengen Agreement, has re-introduced border checks with Italy. (AP: Daniel Cole)
The European Union has marked the 25th anniversary of its Schengen open-border policy with internal land borders shut or subject to heavy checks imposed in an effort to curb the spread of the coronavirus.
- The Schengen Agreement allows free movement of goods and people across the EU
- But to curb coronavirus spread, many member states have re-introduced border controls
- Many European livelihoods will be affected by the partial border closures
The Schengen agreement, underpinning an increasingly integrated and united Europe, came into force on March 26, 1995.
It initially abolished checks at frontiers between France, Germany, Belgium, the Netherlands, Luxembourg, Spain and Portugal.
In the following months and years others joined, and today the Schengen zone has 26 members, including non-EU nations Switzerland and Norway.
But on its 25th anniversary, the agreement is virtually suspended because of the coronavirus, which has frozen most economic and social activity, disrupted supply chains, and forced swathes of Europeans to sit idle at home.
To stem the virus spread, many EU member states including Portugal, Spain, France, Germany, Austria, Czechia and Hungary have instituted complete or partial border closures.
Schengen signatories are pictured in blue, while those in orange are EU member states obliged to join. (Wikimedia Commons)
“The COVID-19 outbreak is having a major disruptive impact on European cross-border mobility and transport,” an internal document of the European Commission said, referring to the disease caused by the coronavirus.
The document, dated March 25, said all EU member states had introduced border restrictions or closures, with the exception of Ireland, which is not a member of the Schengen area and does not share any land border with EU states following Britain’s exit from the bloc.
Livelihoods rely on open borders
Coronavirus controls have triggered numerous truck traffic jams on motorways across Europe. (AP via dpa: Patrick Pleul)
Airports in all but five EU states are subject to restrictions on arrivals and flights, the Commission document said, warning about the disruption caused by such measures on the supply of goods, including essential things like drugs.
“The very life of many of our citizens relies on unhindered movement across borders of workers, essential medical supplies and goods of first necessity,” said Jean Asselborn, foreign minister of Luxembourg, where the town of Schengen is located.
He called for the lifting of checks and the reopening of borders as soon as possible.
@Frontex: Our analysts have come up with a very useful map to track the temporary restrictions put in place throughout the EU, Schengen Area and the UK to deal with #COVID19 #stayathome
But even the founding members of the Schengen accord have shut their borders, despite experts’ advice that the measure is not effective against the virus.
“I had heard in the news that the borders were closed, but I did not expect that there would be such strict controls. There’s nothing we can do about it,” said Dutch commuter Bart Jansen.
He was trying to go to work from his home town of Breda in the Netherlands via a shortcut on Belgian territory, but was not allowed to enter Belgium.
The two countries were, along with Luxembourg, France and West Germany, the signatories of the original Schengen agreement in 1985, 10 years before its application.
Germany has partially closed its borders with France, Switzerland, Austria, Luxembourg and Denmark. (AP: Jean-Francois Badias)