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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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SPORT

How will the Tour de France affect traffic and travel in Denmark?

The 2022 Tour de France starts on Friday, with the much-anticipated Danish Grand Départ setting off from Copenhagen and making its way across Denmark.

How will the Tour de France affect traffic and travel in Denmark?

The race will begin in Copenhagen and spend several days in Denmark crossing islands before riders will be transferred back to France for the race to continue from the north east of the country.

The Tour usually includes at least one stage outside France, but Covid travel restrictions meant the 2021 race was held entirely in France, apart from a brief trip into the neighbouring micro-state of Andorra.

Copenhagen was originally scheduled to host the 2021 Grand Départ.

The race usually starts on a Saturday, but next year will begin on Friday, July 1st, in order to allow time for the rest days and transfer of all teams back from Denmark to France.

READ ALSO: MAP: What you need to know about the 2022 Tour de France (and Denmark)

The Danish portion of the tour is as follows:

Stage 1 – July 1st
Copenhagen – Copenhagen – 13km (time trial)

Stage 2 – July 2nd
Roskilde – Nyborg – 199km

Stage 3 – July 3rd
Vejle – Sønderborg – 182km

Stage 1: Copenhagen

Friday July 1st sees a short 13 kilometre time trial on the streets of Copenhagen mark the beginning of the Grand Depart. Some road closures can be expected as early as Monday June 27th and throughout the week leading up to the event as the city prepares for the arrival of the Tour. As such, both traffic and parking may be congested.

The central H.C. Andersens Boulevard will be closed to traffic with parking areas blocked off in the start and finish area of the route. These closures will be in place from June 27th until Monday July 4th at 5am.

The route of the time trial itself will be closed to traffic from the early hours of July 1st, while parking will not be permitted on the route from the morning of the preceding day, Thursday June 30th.

Spectators and residents in Copenhagen are therefore asked to use public transportation to both access and travel within the city. It will not be possible to drive into central Copenhagen.

Normal traffic is expected from Monday July 4th.

Stage 2: Roskilde – Nyborg

Saturday July 2nd will see the Tour cross Zealand and eventually make its way to the island of Funen across the Great Belt Bridge.

The following municipalities can expect traffic and delays throughout the day, with motorists advised to check their routes and leave early if necessary: Roskilde, Lejre, Odsherred, Holbæk, Kalundborg, Korsør and Nyborg.

Local information about road closures during the Tour de France can be found via the relevant municipality websites. Here is the page for Roskilde, for example.

Detailed information about the second stage can be found on the race organiser’s website.

The Great Belt Bridge will be closed completely to cars from 1pm to 6pm on July 2nd, with adjacent motorway sections closing at 12:30 pm. The motorway will be closed between the Nyborg V (Funen) and Slagelse V (Zealand) junctions.

Motorists are therefore strongly advised to avoid travelling between east and west Denmark on July 2nd and to instead plan their journeys for Thursday, Friday or Sunday. Rail traffic across the bridge will not be affected, however.

Ferry connections between Jutland and Zealand, such as those from Aarhus and Ebeltoft to Sjællands Odde, are expected to book up early for July 2nd.

READ ALSO: Denmark warned of traffic and airport congestion as school holidays begin

Stage 3: Vejle – Sønderborg

Fjord city Vejle, with its steep roads and hilly countryside, will challenge the riders on stage 3 before they head south towards Sønderborg near the German border. Both towns can expect considerable queuing and extended journey times.

Passengers travelling through Billund Airport should allow extra travel time on July 3rd due to possible delays linked to the road closures and congestion around Vejle.

In addition to Vejle and Sønderborg, the Kolding, Haderslev and Aabenraa municipalities will all have road closures to make way for the Tour competitors.

Local information about road closures during the Tour de France can be found via the relevant municipality websites. Here is the page for Vejle, for example.

More information about the third stage of the Tour can be found here.

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