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The coronavirus outbreak shows the real limits of a borderless EU

 Italian Military personnel in uniform wearing protective respiratory masks stand guard at a check point at the border of the isolated small town of Castiglione d?Adda
If the outbreak in Italy were to become similar in size and ferocity to that seen in Wuhan, it would surely be impossible for neighbouring countries to  allow those from affected areas to come and go as they pleased

The seemingly unstoppable spread of coronavirus2020欧洲杯体育足彩外围app has seen an ever-increasing number of Europeans coughing and sneezing. For EU apparatchiks, this disease may be about to cause a headache of a very different sort.

Coronavirus threatens not just public health, but also the very fundamentals of the EU system of free movement, and its Schengen Area that – in theory at least – provide for borderless travel across member states.

The ever-expanding crisis makes it seem inevitable that border controls will be needed once more. If, say, the outbreak in Italy2020欧洲杯体育足彩外围app were to become similar in size and ferocity to that seen in Wuhan, it would surely be impossible for neighbouring countries to sit idly by and allow those from affected areas to come and go as they pleased. 

Even if there was no need to close the border completely, there would unquestionably be an imperative to introduce checks to ensure that those from affected areas, or showing signs of infection, were not allowed to enter. This would, presumably, be required on public health grounds – but the popular clamour for such restrictions would inevitably cause governments to act.

If this were a one-time exception, then you could see how the EU could brush it off as a temporary necessity, in response to a specific emergency.

But recent years have seen the slow death of Schengen. Where once it was the jewel in the crown of free movement, the system is now applied more in theory than in practice. Most notably, since 2015, six EU states – including Germany and France – have reintroduced border checks in response to the European migrant crisis. While the EU argues that these border controls are allowed under the rules, the simple fact is that these restrictions have gone far beyond any previous exceptions, all of which were short-lived. 

T2020欧洲杯体育足彩外围appo make matters worse, the legal basis for what has happened is sketchy at best. When the checks were first re-introduced, it was said that Article 29 of the Schengen Borders Code was being invoked. This provides that “in exceptional circumstances” and where the very functioning of the Schengen Area is put at risk, controls can be reintroduced for a maximum of two years. Even if the migrant crisis could have justified such border controls at all (which is dubious), the two-year time limit has long since expired. 

2020欧洲杯体育足彩外围appNor is it clear why a further extension was granted late last year. German statistics show that the number of people attempting to enter the country is below 2014 levels, but still the checks continue. Typically of EU-decision-making, when Paris and Berlin flex their muscles, then a blind eye is turned to what the rules actually require.

The row over border checks is, however, about more than a quick flash of a passport. The response to the migrant crisis has been for governments to reassert their position at a nation-state level, thereby enfeebling the EU rather than strengthening it. It provides a marked contrast with the Eurozone crisis, which highlighted significant weaknesses with the EU’s system of economic and monetary union. Back then, the states pulled together to deal with the problem (largely at Greece’s expense, of course), introducing the European Stability Mechanism and instigating a banking union. What didn’t kill the EU, made it stronger.

In comparison, governments have been willing to jettison Schengen – and with it the fundamental EU principle of free movement, for national reasons. It turns out sovereignty matters in countries other than the UK, after all. The migrant crisis could have provided the impetus for member states to seek out ever closer ties, but instead they have ridden roughshod over what was meant to be a core value of EU integration. Little wonder that federalists are so concerned: in 2018, the President of the European Parliament wrote that the situation “threatens to destroy the EU”.

2020欧洲杯体育足彩外围app2020 was supposed to be the year when the Schengen crisis came to an end, with the EU hoping that the border checks would – at last – be removed. But now we have coronavirus. For France, Germany and the others, this would seem like a dangerous time to – belatedly – allow people to move without checks. In numerous other states that have continued to adhere to the Schengen rules even in the midst of the migrant crisis, border controls may be introduced for the first time in decades. 

We are about to reach a tipping point. It could be that the border checks are removed, and stay off even in the face of coronavirus, in a substantial victory for free movement. But for a Schengen system that has been under immense strain, and that has been considered by many in the EU to be on the point of collapse, the coming year could finally see it come crashing down.