Just days after pressing its member-states to keep their borders open amid the coronavirus outbreak on the continent, the European Union has thought better of the idea. With the number of coronavirus cases skyrocketing since the weekend, the EU has announced plans to implement a 30-day ban on non-essential travel in the Schengen Area. Better late than never, I suppose. The travel ban is not a complete lockdown, instead designed to minimize the movement of people around Europe as much as possible. It will also include a more stringent closing of Europe’s external border for 30 days, similar to the plan the United States put in place last week.
Part of the EU’s motivation in proposing bloc-wide travel restrictions is political. A number of European nations have been implementing unilateral control restrictions to their borders. Brussels is looking to develop a more coordinated EU-directed approach to borders, and in the process bring all of the member-states in line beneath an umbrella policy. The EU response to the expanding coronavirus crisis has been criticized for being too slow, and limited in many regards.
Ursula von der Leyen, European Commission president has said the restrictions will last 30 days initially, and could be extended if the situation calls for it. The move has received considerable support from France, and Germany. Both nations are grappling with growing numbers of coronavirus cases right now, and Germany at least, has indicated the crisis could last for months, not weeks as originally hoped.
Open internal border travel has been a foundation block of the European Union’s desire to create a European Superstate. The Schengen network was regarded as a crown jewel, heralding a new era of openness and unity at a dawn of what many hoped would be a ‘One Europe’ mindset. It braved a migrant crisis, as well as the wave of populist nationalism sweeping across the continent since 2016. However, Schengen may have met its match in the coronavirus pandemic. Europe’s freedom of movement is descending into chaos as a growing number of EU nation-states are opting to close their borders in order to stem the flow of the coronavirus. Many EU nation-states are imposing strict entry measures on their borders, or closing them entirely, defying warnings by Brussels to avoid blanket travel bans.
As the hours roll by, the situation at land borders across Europe continues to evolve. The continent has become new epicenter of the pandemic and this fact is driving the border closure actions in every case. Denmark, Poland, and the Czech Republic will close their respective borders almost entirely in the coming days. The most recent EU member to announce border restrictions is Germany. According to the German government, Germany’s borders with France, Austria, Denmark, Luxembourg, and Switzerland will be partially closed on Monday. Germany’s federal police chief Dieter Romann explained that his country will not be closing its borders, but controlling them. “We are not closing the borders, that is what they do in North Korea,” he told reporters. “We are controlling the border, that is something completely different.”
Romann’s comments came as the number of coronavirus cases in Germany rose by 1,000 from Saturday. There are now 4,838 confirmed cases of coronavirus in the Federal Republic and that number is most likely going to increased more in the coming days.
Russian Fighter Jets Arrive In Syria
Russia’s buildup of arms and military equipment in Syria continues despite US concerns and objections. As US Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter spoke with his Russian counterpart to discuss ‘mechanisms for deconfliction in Syria.’ Amid the discussions, the first Russian combat aircraft arrived in Syria. Despite the limited efforts by the White House, Russia’s military moves have changed the dynamic of the Syrian crisis and civil war. Bashar al-Assad now has a firm ally in his corner now and access to a large stockpile of weapons and equipment that will help replenish his beleaguered forces. If this new reality does not concern the White House, nothing will.
Even more alarming is the fact that Russia is attempting to change the security dynamic of the entire Middle East and persuade traditional US allies in the region that Russia is a more reliable ally than the United States. The Russian moves in Syria are certainly being monitored by all of the regional powers. The chess match so far has been a largely one-sided affair. The US needs to begin making productive moves or risk losing influence among its allies in the Middle East including Israel.
US officials confirmed the arrival of four Russia Su-27 Flanker fighters in Syria. Who the aircraft will go into combat against remains to be seen. Russia insists that the forces gathering in Syria will be going into action against ISIS. They can just as easily be used to provide support for government forces. The next week should reveal much about what Russia’s real intentions are
Emergency EU Summit To Be Held This Week
The EU remains bitterly divided on how to respond to Europe’s worst migration crisis since World War II. So far, an effective response has not been found. On Wednesday, EU leaders will meet in Brussels for an emergency summit to try and work out a unified response.
Over the weekend, the situation has worsened. In the Aegean Sea, thirteen refugees died after their boat collided with a Turkish ferry. In Hungary, the border with Serbia has been reopened and thousands of refugees from Syria, Iraq and other impoverished, war-torn areas are traveling north through the country to Austria.
As much as the EU would like a unified front in handling the waves of migrants, it does not exist now. Barring a miracle this week at the emergency summit, it will not appear anytime soon either.