MEPs call for a fully functional Schengen area during pandemic 

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The pandemic has restricted the right to free movement of citizens within the EU internal borders, especially affecting those living in border regions and cross border workers.

In a draft motion for resolution adopted on Tuesday with 28 votes in favour, none against and 5 abstentions, the Committee on Petitions (PETI) expressed its concerns over the full or partial border closures during COVID-19 that severely affects citizens’ freedom of movement, especially in border regions.

The text urges member states and the Commission for more flexibility, localised measures, better coordination and cooperation, as well as contingency plans in order to avoid temporary border closures in the future.

Protecting freedom of movement

The Committee regrets the uncoordinated and sudden closure of borders and measures adopted during the first wave of the pandemic and underlines the need to respect the rules of the Schengen acquis to avoid a fragmented approach across the EU. Petitions MEPs worry particularly about the consequences of reintroducing border controls and travel restrictions on cross-border workers, students and binational couples.

Restrictions to free movement should remain an exception, MEPs stress, suggesting they be replaced by targeted measures that respect the principles of proportionality and non-discrimination. Measures should reflect the health situation of each region and comply with maximum security and health safety standards.

Special attention to border regions

Citizens coming from border regions and cross border workers should be exempted from pandemic measures and restrictions, provided they respect the advice and measures of their respective authorities. MEPs insist overall on a swift return to a fully functional Schengen area without border closures, reminding that a Strategy on the future of Schengen is a key initiative of the Commission for 2021 and that the completion of the Schengen area is essential.

Enhancing cross border information

The Committee on Petitions underlines the need for compatibility among different tracing apps and the right of citizens to reliable, comprehensive and real-time information about the pandemic, travel restrictions, health and safety measures. PETI calls on the Commission to update the “Re-open EU” website accordingly to facilitate free movement, reiterating the importance of multilingual communication, especially in cross-border areas.

Background information

On 2 July 2020, the Committee on Petitions examined a petition on the Schengen system and measures taken during the COVID-19 crises. The petition pointed to the restrictions to freedom of movement and asked to examine the legality of border closures.