European Countries Continue To Respond To COVID-19 Pandemic, Leading To Border Closures And EU Difficulties

As the coronavirus pandemic continues to grow, causing heightened panic around the globe, many nations have elected to close their borders to curb its effects reduce the number of novel cases, especially those brought by people entering the country who may be sick.

As of this week, leaders of European Union countries have agreed to close their external borders to non-E.U. citizens for a full thirty days to combat the spread of the novel coronavirus. This was a difficult decision to reach, as the European Union thrives on the principle of community, and since those with European passports can travel freely amongst European Union member states. However, E.U. leaders felt that it needs to be done for the protection of both E.U. citizens and those outside of Europe.

Germany was among the most recent to close their borders and begin the temporary halting of public life; Chancellor Angela Merkel has urged German citizens to ‘rise to the challenge of a lifetime’ and follow government protocol as closely as possible. Merkel has since been quarantining herself after meeting with an official that tested positive for the virus. Such responses by nations appear to have been successful in slowing the progression of the virus across the globe, but work must still be done on international communication and efforts that promote the well-being of Europeans.

It is concerning, however, that the E.U., which was built on the idea of removing hard frontiers and creating united European community, is closing its internal and external borders for the first time in its history. This may have effects that last well into the future. As of last Tuesday, 19 of the 26 nations had set the agreed-upon border restrictions into motion, but for a European Union that is not properly structured for the independence of its member nations, the shift is quickly proving itself to be catastrophic. Truckers attempting to enter Poland from Germany experienced backups of nearly 25 miles as border officials checked the documentation, questioned them about their health, and even took their temperatures before permitting them to cross. Both nations have since closed their borders entirely, with few exceptions.

While the decision was maybe rash and intended to limit Europeans’ exposure to coronavirus, it appears to have involved less critical analysis than may have been necessary; some member states lack the resources to adequately treat their patients with COVID-19, and because no state produces everything that it needs, some are facing difficulties in accessing necessities. The European Union has also enacted very few plans to reconnect those abroad with their home countries; Estonia, Lithuania, and Latvia only have access to the mainland European Union through Poland and were forced to implement rescue forces to bring their citizens home, going so far as to charter their airlines and ferries to reach Germany’s ports and sail around Poland.

E.U. officials in the Brussels headquarters are making desperate attempts at urging their members to keep internal borders open, but many member states have expressed concern at maintaining even this level of openness amongst the global emergency. Germany has enacted what the Washington Post has called ‘political borders’ around the production of medical supplies, banning the export of protective equipment, such as masks, to any nation – including Italy, which continues to struggle in its equipment shortages.

After continual pushing by the European Council, Germany, as well as France, somewhat loosened these bans, but have communicated a critical message: your fellow European nations cannot be counted on to help you if you encounter a crisis. This is especially important due to the nationalist movements that have been brewing across Europe in recent years; the French National Front and Alternative for Germany parties have pushed isolationist rhetoric in several ways, and are likely to be in support of bans that restrict aid to other E.U. nations, even in times of crisis. This responses from both the European Union and on the national level are concerning and may threaten the values that the European Union claims to uphold.

“For the E.U., this is really an existential threat,” said Stefano Stefanini, an Italian former diplomat who now works as a security consultant in Brussels. “If the E.U. is seen as not having done enough or not having cared enough or not having been up to the challenge, people will double down on the question of what the E.U. {is} for”.

Instilling in member states the idea that they must trade their commitment to the community and supporting one another for slowing the progression of a pandemic is irresponsible. It is more than possible to offer aid and access to necessities to surrounding nations and continuing the level of open communication that the European Union is known for in addition to taking proactive steps in treating the COVID-19 pandemic and creating steps that allow nations a degree of flexibility in their approaches to handling national counts of infections.

The complete closure of internal borders, as well as the refusal of European Union officials to completely condemn the German and French bans on exports of essential equipment, sends a dangerous message. It is unacceptable to refuse to offer aid and instead carry out acts of passive violence while standing idly by as nations like Italy, which has been hit hardest by the coronavirus pandemic due to its higher average age, suffer from inaccessibility to essentials.

European Union members states joined the community for a reason and expect that the organization will work with them on making decisions, but also maintain a degree of regulatory discretion over its member states, and this is not entirely being exercised in the current scenario. The refusal of the European Union to condemn passive acts of violence and to produce a structured plan alongside each nation for their management of border and import and export restrictions is also dangerous because it may embolden xenophobia in nationalist groups and their followers. The National Front party in France is known for their xenophobic statements and favour of increased border restrictions, which could be potentially fuelled by a lack of disciplinary action by the E.U. Even French President Macron has favoured increased border restrictions and decreased cross-national aid recently.

The border crises and the crises surrounding access to supplies and the growing number of deaths in European Union nations are going to continue to be an issue in the European Union does not produce a cohesive plan that addresses both the need to limit Europeans’ exposure to the novel coronavirus and the crisis that Italy is facing (and other nations will likely face shortly) regarding access to the necessary resources to treat those suffering from COVID-19. Communicating a refusal to provide help to fellow E.U. nations only fuels violence and animosity, whether passive or active and creates a dangerous imbalance that could cause damage to the E.U. for years to come.

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