EU marks grim anniversary of Schengen pact

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The European Union marked the 25th anniversary of its open-border Schengen agreement on Thursday with all its land borders shut or subject to heavy checks imposed in an effort to curb the spread of the coronavirus.

The Schengen agreement, underpinning an increasingly integrated and united Europe, came into force on March 26, 1995. It initially abolished checks at frontiers between France, Germany, Belgium, the Netherlands, Luxembourg, Spain and Portugal. In the following months and years, others joined, and today the Schengen zone has 26 members, including non-EU nations Switzerland and Norway.

But on its 25th anniversary, the agreement is virtually suspended because of the coronavirus, which has frozen most economic and social activity, disrupted supply chains and turned most Europeans into prisoners in their own homes.

“The COVID-19 outbreak is having a major disruptive impact on European cross-border mobility and transport,” an internal document of the European Commission said, referring to the disease caused by the coronavirus.

The document, dated March 25, said all EU member states had introduced border restrictions or closures, with the exception of Ireland, which is not a member of the Schengen area and does not share any land border with EU states following Britain’s exit from the bloc.

Airports in all but five EU states are subject to restrictions on arrivals and flights, the Commission document said, warning about the disruption caused by such measures on the supply of goods, including essential ones such as medicines.

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