The growing number of countries that apply controls on their borders with other member states threatens the proper functioning of the single market, one of the main milestones of the European Union, in the midst of a battle to stop the spread of the coronavirus pandemic.
To date, twelve countries (Austria, Hungary, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Poland, Lithuania, Germany, Portugal, Spain, as well as Switzerland and Norway, which are not part of the EU, but are associated with the Schengen area), They have notified Brussels of the closure of their internal borders.
The repercussions have been immediate, as has been seen in some of the crossing points between countries where significant bottlenecks have occurred in recent days, caused both by the vehicles of people trying to return to their countries of origin and by trucks that they remain locked for hours.
The border between Germany and Poland is one of the most problematic points, with queues of up to 60 kilometers, especially for the return to their homes of hundreds of citizens of Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia.
Pressure from the President of the European Commission, Ursula Von der Leyen, on Warsaw to create corridors to avoid blocking the axis of movement with the Baltic countries has not been successful to date, although Brussels is confident that the situation will be resolved. soon, according to community sources.
Another blocking point is the border between Italy and Austria, with retentions of up to 80 kilometers, as well as the crossing between Austria and Hungary, with rows of 40 kilometers.
The situation is worrying in Brussels, as Von der Leyen said this week after the videoconference held with the heads of state or government of the EU.
“We have all considered the absolute need to protect our internal market, because it is our most precious asset, it is the most useful tool we have and it is essential that it continue to function properly because it is the capital tool in the crisis we are currently experiencing,” he said.
Those distortions would aggravate the economic situation of the Union in a context of possible recession (the European Commissioner for the Internal Market, Thierry Breton, said a few days ago that, in view of the growth of 1.4% that the EU predicted this year, they now foresee that the coronavirus crisis subtracts between 2 and 2.5 points of gross domestic product (GDP)).
The same commissioner asked by letter this Thursday to the EU industry ministers to seek a solution to the obstacles and restrictions that some countries, such as France or Germany, apply to exports of medical equipment.
“It is crucial that the single market continues to function in order to address the vital needs of EU citizens in a consistent manner and in a spirit of solidarity,” said Breton.
Breton also warned of the impact of border controls on the distribution of essential goods, such as the medical protection equipment now necessary for most member states, and recalled that Brussels has called for the creation of fast lanes to avoid that problem.
“People risk their lives and every minute counts. If the situation continues, carriers will not want to carry these types of key supplies. I am very concerned about the constant news of long lines and waiting times for trucks crossing borders,” he said. .
It does not appear that the guidelines that Union leaders endorsed last Tuesday to coordinate border controls have so far helped solve the problems.
These guidelines, drawn up by Brussels, specify the controls that can be carried out at the EU’s internal borders, including health ones, and stress that countries must “guarantee the supply chain of essential products, such as medicines, medical equipment, perishable food and livestock. “
To avoid blockades, countries are asked to create priority lanes at border crossings for the transport of goods.
Industry ministers held a meeting on Friday, after which they warned in a joint message that “any fragmentation of the single market would further complicate the free movement of goods and distort supply chains.”