Speaking this evening Emmanuel Macron warned his European Union leaders the crisis risked undoing the bloc’s central pillars – for example, the no-border zone codified in the Schengen Agreement – if they did not solidarity, according to a well-placed diplomat. Mr Macron reportedly told the other leaders of the EU27: “What’s at stake is the survival of the European project. “The risk we are facing is the death of Schengen.”
Mr Macron’s comments came on the day the European Union marked the 25th anniversary of Schengen agreement with all its land borders shut or subject to heavy checks imposed in an effort to curb the spread of the coronavirus.
Schengen, intended to underpin an increasingly integrated and united Europe, came into force on March 26, 1995.
It scrapped checks at frontiers between France, Germany, Belgium, the Netherlands, Luxembourg, Spain and Portugal.
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Subsequently others joined, and today the Schengen zone has 26 members, including non-EU nations Switzerland and Norway – but not the UK.
However, the onset of the coronavirus has frozen most economic and social activity, disrupted supply chains and left most Europeans quarantined in their own homes.
An internal European Commission document states: “The COVID-19 outbreak is having a major disruptive impact on European cross-border mobility and transport.”
The document, dated March 25, said all EU member states had introduced border restrictions or closures, with the exception of Ireland, which like the UK is not a member of the Schengen area and does not share any land border with EU states after Brexit.
Speaking earlier this month, Barney Reynolds, a partner at Shearman and Sterling LLP, and an expert in financial law, suggested the suspension of Schengen would have a knock-on effect on the eurozone.
He told Express.co.uk: “The temporary dissolution of Schengen shows that when the chips are down national barriers go back up.
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“That’s sort of okay for free movement, but in the context of money it isn’t at all okay.
“What it means is we can’t work out exactly when the breakpoint is in the system at which member states look after themselves and the Eurozone falls over.
“The Schengen precedent shows there is a pain point at which member states become member states again and protect themselves first, others second.”
European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen took a swipe at national leaders in a speech today in which she said: “The story from the last few weeks is partly a painful one to tell.
“When Europe really needed to be there for each other, too many initially looked out for themselves.
“When Europe really needed an ‘all for one’ spirit, too many initially gave an ‘only for me’ response.
“And when Europe really needed to prove that this is not only a ‘fair weather Union’, too many initially refused to share their umbrella.
“But it was not long before some felt the consequences of their own uncoordinated action.
“This is why over the last few weeks we took exceptional and extraordinary measures to coordinate and enable the action that is needed.
“Europe is now really stepping up.”
However, she added: “The people of Europe are watching what happens next. And we all know what is at stake.
“What we do now matters – for today as well as for the future.”
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