Europe revises border restrictions

Europe’s proposal for an improved system of ID checking to help restore trust countries.

LORNE COOK, Associated Press

BRUSSELS — The European Union unveiled plans to revamp Europe’s ID check-free travel area after national coronavirus restrictions placed new strains on tourism, travel and business over the last year.

The travel zone, known as the “Schengen area,” consists of 26 countries: 22 EU nations plus Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland. Normally, people and goods move freely between these countries without border checks.

Last year, 19 Schengen countries imposed border restrictions without consulting their neighbors to try to keep the virus out. The moves caused massive traffic jams and blocked key medical equipment from getting across borders. 

At least eight countries currently have some restrictions in place, either because of coronavirus prevention or security reasons. Restrictions are meant to last no longer than six months but some countries — notably Austria, France and Denmark — routinely renew them. 

The new strategy aims to strengthen Europe’s external borders, through the Frontex border agency and a state-of-the-art digitalized entry and exit system to track who enters or leaves. Cooperation between police and national security agencies and improved visa policies are also foreseen.

The EU’s executive branch, the European Commission, said its proposals involve an improved system of monitoring to help restore trust between member countries. Brussels said countries would be less inclined to put restrictions in place if they’re confident their neighbors are acting properly.

“What we need is to prepare the governance of the whole Schengen area to be able to face and address these challenges, to secure our citizens while also having free movement,” EU Home Affairs Commissioner Ylva Johansson said. “We are not stronger than our weakest link.”

Another goal is to enlarge the Schengen zone, bringing Bulgaria, Romania, Croatia and Cyprus into it. Around 420 million people live in the Schengen zone. Almost 1.7 million people reside in one Schengen nation and work in another, while an estimated 3.5 million people in Europe cross what were once permanent border crossings every day..

The Commission estimates that border restrictions and closures can result in additional costs of $6-to-22 billion a year.

(Visited 23 times, 1 visits today)