Covid-19 Jeopardizes Mobility in Europe’s Schengen Area

In March 2020, most European countries unilaterally closed their borders without notifying the European Commission, thereby also denying entry to their non-resident citizens — violating the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which states (Article 13) that “everyone has the right […] to return to his country”.

Will the resurgence of Covid-19 in Europe produce serious consequences for free mobility within the Schengen Area again? It is difficult to be optimistic as the single most important factor that could trigger new cross-border restrictions is the evidently markedly different trajectories of the pandemic across European countries. Nevertheless, what happened in March is unlikely to be repeated. The announcement of an unprecedented EU recovery plan, partly financed through collective debt, reduces the risk of uncoordinated unilateral decisions to close borders, as countries will seek to avoid diplomatic friction. France’s pivotal role in the difficult recovery plan negotiations probably partially explains why Italy, the main beneficiary, has not restricted mobility from its western neighbor, notwithstanding the soaring number of cases in France since mid-August.

By late September, Hungary alone had resorted to a formal (de jure) closure of its national borders (except for the citizens of a few neighboring countries). However, a growing number of countries have taken or are considering introducing measures that imply de facto border closures, such as keeping borders open but testing travelers on arrival. This is feasible only if the number of cross-border travelers plummets, as countries will otherwise struggle even more than they are currently to conduct tests and deliver rapid results or implement mandatory quarantining. So, dark times ahead
for mobility within Europe’s Schengen Area.

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