EU: Schengen travel restrictions badly checked amid pandemic
BRUSSELS (AP) — European Union auditors said Monday that the bloc’s executive arm should have checked more carefully the restrictions on free movement imposed by EU nations during the COVID-19 pandemic.
EU nations struggled to coordinate travel restrictions during the coronavirus pandemic — which has killed at least 6.3 million people around the world — as they tried to maintain a smooth circulation of people and goods.
But the European Court of Auditors, or ECA, said the supervision of the bloc’s internal border controls since March 2020 “did not fully safeguard the Schengen rules.”
In March 2020, several EU nations hastily closed their borders in an attempt to stop the spread of the virus, even though the EU’s Schengen agreement allows all EU residents to move freely in the area without border checks.
Under the Schengen Code, nations can introduce border checks at their internal borders on grounds of a serious threat to internal security. The ECA said it reviewed all 150 notifications of internal border controls submitted to the European Commission between March 2020 and June 2021, of which 135 related exclusively to COVID-19.
“Their review clearly shows that notifications did not provide sufficient evidence to demonstrate that the border controls were indeed a measure of last resort, or that they were proportionate and limited in duration,” auditors said. “Moreover, the Commission has not launched infringement procedures in respect of long-term border controls that were introduced before the pandemic.”
The Schengen Area includes most EU countries, except for Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Ireland and Romania. Non-EU nations Iceland, Norway, Switzerland and Liechtenstein are also part of the Schengen agreement.
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