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The pandemic has taught us to appreciate Schengen

Wednesday, 18 November 2020
This is an opinion article by an external contributor. The views belong to the writer.

In conjunction with the fundamental freedoms, Schengen guarantees EU citizens a freedom never seen before. The Corona crisis now clearly shows how closed borders affect a united Europe.

In 1985, several European countries signed the Schengen Agreement, which provides for the abolition of controls at common borders and the introduction of the free movement of people and goods.

A milestone in the history of Europe, which at that time was still divided into freedom and bondage. In 1995 Austria joined this agreement, in 1997 the border controls with the EU neighbours were discontinued.

Schengen was not only legally but also politically an important step towards creating further freedoms for citizens within this community. It is not for nothing that the foundation of the most important part of the EU, the internal market, is called “fundamental freedoms”. It shows the intention behind the stronger European integration.

These fundamental freedoms include the free movement of services, goods, capital and people. The latter in particular represents an enormous benefit for European citizens.

Artificial border against historical associations

The borders within Europe are mostly historically fluid. In the regions in particular, people are connected to one another regardless of the nation state. Alsace and the Rhine regions, South Tyrol and Tyrol or West Hungary and Burgenland to name a few examples.

Anyone who sees a “right” and “wrong” side in areas that are so closely interwoven culturally, historically and economically, to which one would have to distance oneself, can only be an ignoramus.

While the fundamental freedoms are the basis of a united Europe, Schengen goes one step further and also releases people from the “everyday” control of citizens.

The Schengen myth

But it is a myth that Schengen leads to “uncontrolled travel”. EU opponents have always spread this untruth. In the UK, the Brexiters have chosen this fairy tale as a basis for their campaign. The UK wasn’t even a full member of Schengen. Of course, it always carried out immigration controls.

The Schengen system is much more complex than the reduction to “free travel on vacation” suggests. As part of the “area of ​​freedom, security and justice,” the judicial work in this area has been gradually strengthened and entry regulations have been standardized – which turned a bead of 27 national guidelines into a manageable system. It facilitates searches and entry bans and improves the exchange of information. So it also helps the states.

Suspension to Schengen damages the economy

The advantages of Schengen are praised especially in the holiday season. But that is far too superficial, Schengen is not primarily a measure for stress-free excursions. The fact that Schengen is a symbol for travel on the whim is also due to the fact that more and more people are able to travel. Thanks to the prosperity that the internal market has brought us.

Schengen is fundamentally an enormous relief for everyone involved in business life. Inconceivable what it would mean to control the millions of commuters.

According to a communication from the EU Commission, the internal Schengen borders were passed 1.25 billion times in 2017. Imagine now passport controls of each individual. Today it is no longer imaginable for many citizens.

Anyone who would like to get a picture of it, should speak to people who take a bus trip from the Balkans to the EU and have to wait hours at the border.

The reintroduction of stationary and continuous identity checks would cause such great financial damage that it would de facto destroy the internal market. And with it the EU.

One of the reasons why some opponents of European integration are calling for it? The single market became – rightly – the core element of European unification. Economy is not everything, but without a functioning economy there is no prosperity.

Corona showed what closed borders mean

The corona crisis that hit Europe at the beginning of 2020 led to some drastic measures by the states. One of the strictest measures was the complete closure of all borders between states. A comprehensible measure due to the global pandemic and the drastic forecasts. But this must be limited in time. In retrospect, the closing of the borders clearly shows the effects that followed.

Some governments have banned exports of goods, some of which are essential for life, to EU partner countries. Legally compliant, but it has done so much damage to European unification that it is questionable whether this trust will ever be regained.

The closed borders have also impaired the movement of goods so much that the EU Commission reacted quickly and introduced so-called “green lanes”, with which the movement of goods across borders could be guided more quickly. How much tourism, an important economic sector for many countries, suffers from closed borders can also be seen.

In addition to the economic consequences, the border closures owing to the corona pandemic also reveal the fragility of two areas that are extremely important for society: the care and food sectors.

As a result of the closure, the work of the Eastern and Southeastern European harvest workers and nurses came to a standstill almost overnight. The UK, which had left the EU after a campaign against “Eastern workers”, among other things, flew in harvest workers from Eastern Europe on charter flights.

In Austria, a special arrangement was worked out with Hungary, since Hungary itself also kept the border closed. The government tried to allow special trains for nurses from Romania.

Reality beats populism

Within a few hours, Corona subjected the destructive campaigns of EU opponents and internal border advocates to a reality check and exposed them. Closed borders in a united Europe lead to economic decline, unemployment and human suffering. Small-scale internal borders are a contradiction to the fundamental freedoms.

These fundamental freedoms are the basis of success, prosperity and freedom in a democratic, peacefully united Europe. Anyone who attacks the fundamental freedoms is attacking the foundations of the EU. Corona showed us all clearly.

Stefan Haboeck