On 14 December, the European Commission published a proposed change to the operation of the Schengen travel area. Temporary travel restrictions at internal European borders shall become more easily implementable by states, such as public health measures and responses to threats on internal security. This deviates from the supposed norm of open internal borders that facilitate free movement of European citizens and guarantee an integrated economy.
The Schengen zone is one of the most tangible achievements of European integration for citizens, especially at the countless land borders. Generations of Europeans experience open internal borders as the norm - our social spheres do not stop at national boundaries anymore. Its history is also closely linked to that of several European federalist movements: On 6 August 1950, several busloads of students peacefully gathered at the Franco-German border and started dismantling the barriers. They proclaimed ‘Europe is the present’ and demanded the creation of a European parliament, a European government, and a common travel area. This became reality in 1995, as the European Union started to take its present shape, and passportless Schengen was implemented. For 20 years, more and more countries joined a Europe without internal barriers. However, starting with the Paris terrorist attacks in 2015 and continuing through the ongoing migrant crisis, more and more states have reintroduced some form of hard border to varying degrees. These measures were planned to be temporary but have been continuously extended until today.
JEF Malta condemns the move towards a Europe that bars free internal movement instead of focusing on reinforcing our external borders in a dignified and humane manner for asylum seekers. While the Commission proposes additional supervision on necessity and impact of controls on border regions, it nonetheless opens the door for frequent and arbitrary closure of internal borders. Implied alternatives such as stationary police checks are a similarly incisive measure and in practice, the same as a hard border. Suggested ‘green lanes’ for smooth transit, preferring some traffic movements over others, are indicating permanent discriminatory and deeply disrupting measures. Using the current situation of the Covid-19 pandemic and the Belarus migrant crisis to alter this fundamental civic and economic freedom is far from desirable for European integration, as it interrupts the lives of millions of Europeans crossing internal borders on a daily basis.