COVID-19: Policy responsesEU Closes External Border; Some EU Members Suspend Schengen Agreement

Published 18 March 2020

EU leaders on Tuesday approved the closure of the EU external border for 30 days. Some member states, notably France, have closed their borders to entry from other EU members, in effect suspending the Schengen Agreement. In all, the new policy will affect 32 European states, including both Schengen and non-Schengen countries. Lines of trucks have been forming at border crossings across the continent, with the Brenner Pass, which connects Italy and Austria, seeing traffic jams extending more than 80 miles.

How can the spread of the coronavirus be contained without curbing the movement of goods within the Union and preventing EU nationals from returning to their country? These questions, and the issue of the differences, if any, between the external and internal borders of the EU, which leaders of the EU’s twenty-seven member states discussed Tuesday in a video-summit.

After several weeks in which member states took their own decisions without consultation with Brussels, the EU leaders stressed that members pf the union could, and should, come together.

Various border-closing arrangements agreed to in the video conference will affect a total of thirty-two countries, including the Schengen countries, but also the five non-Schengen EU states, as well as the United Kingdom.

There were differences. A top European diplomat told Le Figaro that “Portugal wanted fewer restrictions in order to keep their strong ties to Brazil, and Poland wanted more restrictions. But, overall, everyone is going in the same direction.” The U.K. has reportedly said it was not willing to follow the EU’s proposals, and Ireland went along with the U.K. By Tuesday evening, several countries had already closed: France, Germany, Spain, Sweden, and Latvia. “I think by the end of the week they will all have closed their borders,” said the diplomat.

The EU said each state would decide for itself how it was going to implement the border-closure decision. France did not wait for Tuesday’s conference: On Monday, President Emmanuel Macron the closure of all of France’s borders, including the country’s borders with Italy, Germany, Spain, and Switzerland. France would allow only cross-border workers, nationals of the countries concerned, and goods to pass.

The impact of border closures is already felt throughout the continent. Lines of trucks are forming in Europe, and Monday, the Brenner Pass, which connects Italy and Austria, saw traffic jams extending more than 80 miles.

Similar traffic jams were reported from border crossings on the border between Germany and Poland, and between Sweden and Denmark. Analysts say that there are risks for the supply of medical equipment and foodstuffs, and nationals of several countries are finding it difficult to return to their home countries. A few dozen nationals of Latvia could not return home from their place of employment in Germany because Poland would let them into Poland, which they must cross on their way home.

One of the decisions approved by the EU leaders on Tuesday was to create dedicated lanes for trucks, and give special dispensation for nationals of EU member states wishing to return to their country to pass through closed national borders.