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EXPLAINED: Which Schengen area countries have border controls in place and why?

Borders within Europe's Schengen area are meant to be open but several countries have checks in place but are they legal and will they be forced to scrap them? Claudia Delpero explains the history and what's at stake.

EXPLAINED: Which Schengen area countries have border controls in place and why?
A French police officer checks a man's passport and identification papers at a border post on the French-Spanish border(Photo by IROZ GAIZKA / AFP)

The European Court of Justice has recently said that checks introduced by Austria at the borders with Hungary and Slovenia during the refugee crisis of 2015 may not be compatible with EU law.

Austria has broken the rules of the Schengen area, where people can travel freely, by extending temporary controls beyond 6 months without a new “serious threat”.

But Austria is not the only European country having restored internal border checks for more than six months.

Which countries have controls in place and what does the EU Court decision mean for them? 

When can EU countries re-introduce border checks?

The Schengen area, taken from the name of the Luxembourgish town where the convention abolishing EU internal border controls was signed, includes 26 states: the EU countries except for Ireland, Bulgaria, Cyprus, Croatia and Romania, plus Iceland, Norway, Lichtenstein and Switzerland, which are not EU members.

The Schengen Borders Code sets the rules on when border controls are permitted. It says that checks can be temporarily restored where there is a “serious threat to public policy or internal security”, from the organisation of a major sport event to a terrorist attack such as those seen in Paris in November 2015.

However, these checks should be a “last resort” measure, should be limited to the period “strictly necessary” to respond to the threat and not last more than 6 months.

In exceptional circumstances, if the functioning of the entire Schengen area is at risk, EU governments can recommend that one or more countries reintroduce internal border controls for a maximum of two years. The state concerned can then continue to impose checks for another six months if a new threat emerges. 

Which countries keep border checks in place?

Countries reintroducing border controls have to notify the European Commission and other member states providing a reason for their decision. 

Based on the list of notifications, these countries currently have controls in place at least at some of their borders: 

Norway – until 11 November 2022 at ferry connections with Denmark, Germany and Sweden. These measures have been in place since 2015 due to terrorist threats or the arrival of people seeking international protection and have sometimes extended to all borders.

Austria – until November 2022 11th, since 2015, at land borders with Hungary and with Slovenia due to risks related to terrorism and organised crime and “the situation at the external EU borders”. 

Germany – until November 11th 2022, since November 12th 2021, at the land border with Austria “due to the situation at the external EU borders”.

Sweden – until November 11th 2022, since 2017, can concern all borders due to terrorist and public security threats and “shortcomings” at the EU external borders. 

Denmark – until November 11th 2022, since 2016, can concern all internal borders due to terrorist and organised criminality threats or migration.

France – until October 31st 2022 since 2015, due to terrorist threats and other events, including, since 2020, the Covid-19 pandemic.

Estonia – until May 21st 2022, from April 22nd 2022, at the border with Latvia “to facilitate the entry and reception of people arriving from Ukraine”.

Norway, Austria, Germany and France also said they are operating checks on non-EU citizens. 

Can Schengen rules survive?

Despite the exceptional nature of these measures, there have been continuous disruptions to the free movement of people in the Schengen area in the past 15 years. 

Since 2006, there have been 332 notifications of border controls among Schengen countries, with increasing frequency from 2015. In addition, 17 countries unilaterally restored border controls at the start of the pandemic. 

In December 2021, the Commission proposed to reform the system to ensure that border controls remain an exception rather than becoming the norm. 

According to the proposals, countries should consider alternatives to border controls, such as police cooperation and targeted checks in border regions. 

When controls are restored, governments should take measures to limit their impacts on border areas, especially on the almost 1.7 million people who live in a Schengen state but work in another, and on the internal market, especially guaranteeing the transit of “essential” goods. 

Countries could also conclude bilateral agreements among themselves for the readmission of people crossing frontiers irregularly, the Commission suggested. 

If border controls have been in place for 6 months, any notification on their extension should include a risk assessment, and if restrictions are in place for 18 months, the Commission will have to evaluate their necessity. Temporary border controls should not exceed 2 years “unless for very specific circumstances,” the Commission added. 

At a press conference on April 27th, European Commissioner for Home Affairs Ylva Johansson said the EU Court ruling about Austria is in line with these proposals.

“What the court says is that member states have to comply with the time limit that is in the current legislation. Of course we can propose another time limit in the legislation… and the court also says that it’s necessary for member states, if they would like to prolong [the border controls] to really do the risk assessment on whether it’s really necessary… and that’s exactly what’s in our proposal on the Schengen Border Code.”

Criticism from organisations representing migrants

It is now for the European Parliament and EU Council to discuss and adopt the new rules.

A group of migration organisations, including Caritas Europe, the Danish Refugee Council, Oxfam International and the Platform for International Cooperation on Undocumented Migrants (PICUM) have raised concerns and called on the EU institutions to modify the Commission proposals.

In particular, they said, the “discretionary nature” of controls in border regions risk to “disproportionately target racialised communities” and “practically legitimise ethnic and racial profiling and expose people to institutional and police abuse.”

Research from the EU Fundamental Rights Agency in 2021, the groups noted, shows that people from an ‘ethnic minority, Muslim, or not heterosexual’ are disproportionately affected by police stops.

The organisations also criticize the definition of people crossing borders irregularly as a threat and a new procedure to “transfer people apprehended… in the vicinity of the border area” to the authorities of the country where it is assumed they came from without any individual assessment. 

The article is published in cooperation with Europe Street News, a news outlet about citizens’ rights in the EU and the UK.

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COVID-19 ALERT

Travel: What Covid rules are in place when visiting Austria this summer?

From entry rules to local Covid-19 restrictions and the latest data, here is what you need to know before visiting Austria in the summer of 2022.

Travel: What Covid rules are in place when visiting Austria this summer?

Austria is a very popular tourist destination, especially during the summer months, with its pristine lakes and beautiful cities ready to receive thousands of travellers.

However, the pandemic is still not over and many tourists are left with several questions when they decide to visit another country.

Here is what you need to know about the Covid-19 situation, rules, and requirements before visiting the Alpine country.

What are the entry rules?

First of all, what are the rules for entering the country? That’s an easy one: there are currently no Covid-19 restrictions for entering the country.

More specifically: there is no need to show proof that you were recently vaccinated, recovered from Covid-19 or tested negative for the disease.

You also don’t need to quarantine upon entry or fill in a specific online form.

This could change on short notice, though, in case any variant of concern is found in Europe or further afield. 

Here is the official website where you can find more information in English.

Are there any Covid-19 restrictions?

Austria has lifted most of its coronavirus-related restrictions, and life is almost as it was over two years ago. However, there are still a few rules to keep in mind, especially concerning masks.

There are also some differences when it comes to Vienna and the rest of the country, as Mayor Michael Ludwig (SPÖ) chose to stick with the “Viennese way” and keep some restrictions, most notably the mandatory use of masks in public transport.

Currently, masks are no longer mandatory in essential stores or public transport in most of Austria.

READ ALSO: LATEST: These are the Covid rules in Austria and Vienna from June 2022

According to the federal government, there is still an FFP2 mask mandate in “vulnerable” settings. These include hospitals, elderly and care homes, and health services.

Vienna has a few more restrictions when it comes to using of masks. In the capital, they are still mandatory in pharmacies, health care, and public transport (including the stations).

Besides the mandatory FFP2 mask usage in the entire country, Vienna also has a PCR test obligation to visitors. There are no longer visitor restrictions, though.

Self-isolation rules: what if I test positive?

In Vienna, the quarantine after a positive test lasts for ten days. It ends automatically if, during the last 48 hours, the person has shown no symptoms. People can test themselves free after five days if the PCR result is negative or a CT value above 30.

In the rest of Austria, people who tested positive but had a mild course of the disease and showed no symptoms for 48 hours can leave quarantine on the fifth day of isolation.

READ ALSO: What tourists in Austria should do if they test positive for Covid

If they test negative, they are free from restrictions.

Still, if they do not get tested or get a CT value below or equal to 30, they go into “traffic restriction” and need to wear a mask and not visit events or gastronomy for the next five days.

Can I take a free Covid-19 test as a tourist? What about a free vaccination?

Technically, yes. With the tests, it can be a bit more complicated, but we wrote a complete guide on how to get free Covid tests in Austria as a tourist.

READ ALSO: How tourists, visitors (and residents) can get free Covid tests

There are still “test streets” and “test boxes” where you can get tested for free without having an Austrian social insurance number. Remember to carry a picture ID and wear an FFP2 mask in those places, though.

As for vaccination, it is also possible to get a Covid-19 vaccine for free and without Austrian health insurance in the country. You will also need a picture ID and to wear a mask.

What if I get Covid-19 before my trip to Austria?

You are not allowed to enter Austria if you know you have Covid-19 – though there are currently no more checks, this falls largely into personal responsibility.

If you need to cancel your trip due to a positive test result, here is what you need to know about your rights.

READ ALSO: Reader question: Can I get a refund after cancelling my Austria trip due to Covid?

Airline companies are not required to refund you or allow you to make changes to your flight for free – unless the ticket you purchased entitles you to these rights.

The same is valid for hotel reservations. Most of them, primarily if you have used an online booking platform, will have different fees, and travellers have additional rights. It is essential to understand each tariff and what they entitle you to.

What is the current situation regarding Covid-19 in Austria?

Coronavirus numbers are rising in Austria, with many experts alerting to a Covid-19 wave, as The Local reported.

On Monday, July 4th, Austria reported 7,745 new coronavirus infections after 60,917 PCR tests. There were 929 hospitals with Covid-19 and 51 people in intensive care units. Since the beginning of the pandemic, 18,798 people have died from the disease in Austria.

Just under 62 percent of the population has all the necessary vaccination doses for a valid “green pass”, according to the Health Ministry.

READ ALSO: 11,000 new cases: Will Austria reintroduce restrictions as infection numbers rise?

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