European countries should be less likely to close their internal borders, even in times of pandemic. That is what the European Commission says. Her motivation: freedom of movement is a fundamental European right and one of the most valued fruits of European cooperation by citizens.
Closing borders should already be the last resort, there should be an urgent reason for it, and even then, it should only be temporary, and if possible, it should be reported to Brussels in advance and with reasons. In the past fifteen months, in the Commission’s view, countries sometimes resorted to this extreme weapon too quickly and for too long.
This led to significant nuisance, especially in border regions, for the approximately 1.7 million citizens who worked, studied or shopped from there in a neighbouring country. But it also led to sometimes hours-long queues at internal borders that had long since disappeared. And with that, serious disruptions to the supply chain, according to the Commission.
The ‘green lanes’ (faster passage for freight traffic) with which this was solved in many cases must become a permanent part of a new Schengen treaty (Schengen regulates the open borders). Because if there are new pandemics, they should never again affect the internal market as corona did. Brussels does believe in: strengthening cooperation between the 26 Schengen countries, including between police and aliens services, an annual consultation of the Schengen capitals and a scoreboard, a means that Brussels more often uses when something is not running well.
Such a scoreboard does not even need sanctions. The idea is that member states automatically want to be at the top of the best-performing country and be ashamed if they end up in the bottom half. Further reinforcement of the security of the external borders and a stricter approach to people smuggling are also part of the plans.
Still, Brussels will make separate proposals for this later this year. According to Vice-Chairman Margaritis Schinas, Schengen, with a population of 420 million, is “still a well-oiled machine,” but, like any machine, it needs an overhaul in time.
The Commission is using its evaluation of Schengen in the time of corona also to push – not for the first time – for the rapid admission of Bulgaria, Romania and Croatia, three EU Member States that are still against their will outside Schengen (two others, Ireland and Denmark, do not want). Unlike the Commission, some European countries believe that this trio does not yet meet all the conditions.