The impact of coronavirus on Schengen borders

Border controls to reduce the spread of coronavirus

The rapid and global spread of coronavirus following the outbreak in Wuhan (China) in December 2019 has pushed countries and regions around the world to reinforce border controls and impose limitations to internal movements. In the US, the majority of states have imposed state quarantine measures. Similar measures have been taken in Canada and Australia.

The Schengen Area

The Schengen Area consists of 26 countries that have agreed to remove regular checks at their internal borders in order to facilitate the free and unrestricted movement of people. The countries include 22 EU Member States (Belgium, Czechia, Denmark, Germany, Estonia, Greece, Spain, France, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Hungary, Malta, the Netherlands, Austria, Poland, Portugal, Slovakia, Slovenia, Finland and Sweden) and 4 associated countries (Iceland, Norway, Switzerland and Liechtenstein. The Schengen Code lays down the common rules governing the management of internal and external EU borders, including rules and procedures concerning the exceptional introduction of border checks at internal borders.

According to the Code, Member States can introduce temporary border checks at their internal borders in cases of a foreseeable threat (e.g. a special event), an immediate threat or in the situation of persistent serious deficiencies relating to external borders. As of March 2020, the coronavirus outbreak has pushed many Member States to reintroduce border controls at the internal borders on grounds of an immediate threat to public policy. According to Article 28 of the Code, the duration of such exceptional measure must be limited to ten days with the possibility to prolong them by renewable periods of 20 days, up to a maximum of two months. A Member State must notify the Commission and the other Member States before taking action, specifying the reasons, scope and duration of the measures. The information must be submitted to the European Parliament and the Council too.

The Commission is supposed to issue an opinion after consulting the other Member States. In order to ensure the free circulation of goods and services in the single market, the European Commission put forward guidelines for border management measures. On 20 March, the Member States accepted the Commission’s proposal on the restriction of non-essential travel into the EU for a period of 30 days.

The travel restriction provides for exemptions for nationals of all EU Member States and Schengen Associated States (UK nationals will be treated in the same way as EU citizens during the transition period, until end-2020), for the purposes of returning to their homes and for travellers with an essential function or need.

In the 15 April roadmap for lifting coronavirus containment measures, the Commission recommends the coordinated lifting of internal travel restrictions and border controls ‘once the border regions’ epidemiological situation converges sufficiently’.

The European Parliament has constantly defended the Schengen Area and condemned the unjustified reintroduction of internal borders. On 16 March, Juan Fernando López Aguilar, the Chair of the Civil Liberties Committee (LIBE), called for a coordinated approach and urged Member States to take measures that fully respect the Schengen rules and the principles of proportionality, solidarity among Member States, and non-discrimination.

Internal border measures related to coronavirus in the Schengen Area

As of 27 April 2020, 17 Schengen countries had notified the European Commission on the reintroduction of controls at internal borders due to threats related to the spread of Covid-19. The countries that have notified the Commission about the reintroduction of controls at all or some sections of internal borders are: Belgium, Czechia, Denmark, Germany, Spain, France, Estonia, Hungary, Lithuania, Austria, Poland, Portugal, Slovakia, Finland, Iceland, Switzerland, and Norway. A number of other Schengen countries have introduced restrictions on movement of persons that affect internal borders, such as temporary bans on non-essential travel. These countries are: Italy, Latvia, Malta, the Netherlands, and Slovenia.

Situation in Cyprus

Cyprus introduced an entry ban for all persons (except for its citizens, legal residents, and European or third-country nationals working in Cyprus) between 16 March and 20 April. Those allowed to enter should present a recent medical certificate and need to observe a 14-day compulsory quarantine at designated accommodation facilities. On 21 March, Cyprus suspended flights from all EEA countries and Switzerland, except for cargo, ferry, humanitarian, ambulance and repatriation flights to Cyprus.

(source: European Parliament)

Notes: Internal border: (a) the common land borders, including river and lake borders, of the Member States; (b) the airports of the Member States for internal flights; (c) sea, river and lake ports of the Member States for regular internal ferry connections (according to Art. 2 of the Schengen Borders Code). In a number of cases restrictions and reductions in air or sea transport services have had the de facto effect of stopping travel, without the need for formal border controls to be reintroduced.

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