Written by Costica Dumbrava and Giulio Sabbati (updated on 24.4.2020),
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.
Read the complete briefing on ‘The impact of coronavirus on Schengen borders‘ in the Think Tank pages of the European Parliament.