Borders: What consequences of Covid-19 on the Schengen area?

The external borders of the Schengen area reopened for residents of 15 countries on Wednesday 1 July. The whole of Europe is reviewing the border restrictions put in place during the Covid-19 crisis, as well as the political, economic and legal implications for this area of free movement.

On the one hand, a fundamental freedom of European identity, on the other, a health threat unprecedented in contemporary history. With the emergence of the Covid-19 pandemic, which caused more than 170,000 deaths on the continent, Europe was faced with an insoluble equation. It has had to largely reconsider the abolition of internal border controls, a founding principle of the Schengen area. Created in 1985, the Schengen area, which comprises 26 states (22 EU Member States + Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland), had never been so disrupted in its operation: strict restrictions have been reinstated not only within its territory but also at its external borders.

These were lifted in most Member States on Monday 15 June at internal borders, and were abolished at external borders from 1 July for residents of 15 countries (Algeria, Australia, Canada, Georgia, Japan, Montenegro, Morocco, New Zealand, Rwanda, Serbia, South Korea, Thailand, Tunisia and Uruguay, Andorra, Monaco, the Vatican, San Marino and China). For China, this lifting of restrictions is subject to the principle of reciprocity, i.e. residents of Schengen member countries must be able to travel to China in return.

This list, based on precise epidemiological criteria (including a contamination rate of less than 16 cases per 100 000 inhabitants), is updated every two weeks. This measure, decided following a vote by the EU Council, is not binding, so states can choose whether or not to apply it.

At the external borders

On 1 July, restrictions at the EU's external borders were therefore lifted for residents of 15 countries but remain in force for the rest of travellers. "

At internal borders

15 June is a key date because many countries have restored free movement for Schengen area nationals at their borders, such as Belgium, Germany, France and Greece. However, France has maintained fourteen (recommended but not obligatory) bids for British citizens entering its territory.

Others have also maintained restrictions with certain nationalities. This is the case for Hungary, Bulgaria, Austria, Slovakia, the Czech Republic, Norway, Denmark and Latvia. Several specific cases of States having "reopened" their borders at an early stage should be noted. Italy reopened its territory to foreign tourists on 3 June, Croatia did the same on 10 June and Poland followed on 13 June.

Other Member States, on the other hand, were more cautious. Spain, for example, set 21 June as the date for lifting restrictions at its land borders. It further delayed the deadline for its border with Portugal, where restrictions were maintained until 1 July. Portugal has notified the Commission of the extension of its restrictions at the Spanish border until 1 July, and has therefore just lifted them. Finland, for its part, has requested the maintenance of exceptional measures until 14 July.

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