Friday, March 27, 2020

Map: Schengen Border Controls Before Coronavirus (2017-2020)

We mapped reinstated border controls within Europe's Schengen free travel area in March 2016, August 2016, February 2017, and August 2017, amid the past half-decade's surge of new refugee and immigrant arrivals. This article chronicles the history of the border checks from 2017 until just before the coronavirus pandemic of 2020. See the companion piece to this article for border controls during the coronavirus outbreak.

Schengen borders map showing temporary reintroduction of border controls in the Schengen Area (the European Union's border-free travel zone) as of February 2020, showing internal Schengen borders closed to passport-free travel just before the surge of new border controls enacted for the coronavirus outbreak. Map is also accurate for most of the period from from late 2019 through early 2020, and similar to the situation in 2018.

Changes to the way France is depicted compared to the previous map represent a stylistic adjustment, and not a change to the actual situation. Map by Evan Centanni, from blank map by Ssolbergj. License: CC BY-SA
Article by Evan Centanni

Border Controls Between Schengen Countries

As anyone who's visited Europe in recent decades knows, much of the continent is linked together as part of the "Schengen Area", a collection of countries that don't make travelers show any ID to cross back and forth across the borders between them - just walk on in (this system is overseen by the European Union, but the Schengen Area and the EU aren't the same thing). Though these borders are supposed to stay unregulated most of the time, the system does allow countries to temporarily reintroduce border controls under certain circumstances.

Learn More: What is the Schengen Area, and which countries are and aren't part of it?

During the past five years, several Schengen countries have used these special exceptions to control the flow of refugees and immigrants into Europe, controversially extending the "temporary" controls over and over again all the way up until the present. When we published our last map of border controls within Schengen in August 2017, there were six member countries reserving the right to perform border checks.

Since then, a series of extensions from the same six countries has kept their border checks alive, but there have been various changes to the justifications for the border checks, and to the details of which borders are allowed to be controlled. Read on for a concise summary of what changed from August 2017 through February 2020. For March 2020, see our separate map article covering the new situation under the coronavirus pandemic.

While looking at the maps or reading through the timeline, be aware that we are chronicling and mapping the maximum extent of border controls allowed under each country's declaration. In reality, the countries might only enforce control over parts of the marked borders, or might begin or end enforcement from one day to the next.

Learn More: The UK already wasn't part of the Schengen Area or Eurozone, so what changed when it left the EU?

Schengen Border Controls for Migration and Terrorism

Map of the European Union (EU) and prospective member countries
The full European Union (EU) and prospective members
EU rules have have always discouraged long-term border controls within the Schengen Area - if the exceptions aren't kept temporary, it defeats the purpose of having the free-travel area in the first place. At the time of our last Schengen map report, five countries - Germany, Austria, Denmark, Sweden, and Norway - had negotiated a compromise solution with the EU government allowing them to keep reduced controls in place until a final deadline of November 2017.

However, once that deadline came, the five countries extended their border controls anyway, relying on the precedent set by France (see next section) to repeatedly extend emergency controls, while different branches of the EU government tried fruitlessly to come to an agreement on new compromise rules. The legality of this approach is considered very questionable by many observers, and several other EU member countries have strongly objected to it - but they've gone forward with it all the same.

When extending for the first time under the new strategy in late 2017, all five countries cited "security situation in Europe and threats resulting from the continuous significant secondary movements" as their official reason for the extension. The previous extensions, approved through talks with the EU government, had only stated that they were "in line with the recommendation of the Council", without elaborating on the actual justifications.

By this time, refugee and immigrant arrivals to Europe had already dropped back to normal levels after the surge of 2016, but these five governments were arguing - controversially - that those migrants were still moving around in large numbers within the Schengen Area ("secondary movements"). The "security situation in Europe" may refer to the series of high-profile terrorist attacks associated with the so-called "Islamic State" organization (formerly ISIS/ISIL), which some believed (again, controversially) to be facilitated by the inflow of refugees from Syria and other countries.

The new six-month extension included the following borders:
  • Germany extended its right to control its border with Austria, and added potential controls for international flights entering from Greece.
  • Austria extended its right to control its borders with Slovenia and Hungary.
  • Denmark extended its right to control its border with Germany.
  • Sweden extended its right to control crossings over the bridge from Denmark, and reduced its rights to control sea arrivals along its western and southern coastline to apply only to "selected harbors".
  • Norway extended its right to control ferry arrivals from Sweden, Denmark, and Germany, appearing to clarify that it would not control other ships arriving at the same ports from within the Schengen Area.
On May 12, 2018, all five countries extended their controls for yet another six months, with all the same details except:
  • Denmark expanded its right to do border checks to potentially include all its borders, including the bridge from Sweden and ships and flights arriving from other Schengen countries, though it noted that its "initial focus" would be on the land and sea borders with Germany.
  • Sweden expanded its right to conduct border checks to include all its borders, including the land borders with Norway and Sweden, and sea and air connections from all other Schengen countries. It also changed its official reason to the more vague "continuous serious threat to public policy and internal security". 
  • Norway expanded its right to conduct border checks to include all of its borders, including its land borders with Sweden and Finland, and air and sea connections from all other Schengen countries. However, it specified that its "initial focus" would still be on ferries from Sweden, Denmark, and Germany.
On November 12, 2018, they all extended again, with the following changes:
  • Germany removed "security situation in Europe" from its reason for extension, citing only "threats resulting from the continuous significant secondary movements".
  • Denmark changed its reason to "persistent and severe threat to public order and internal  security".
  • Sweden changed the first word of its cited reason for border checks from "continuous" to "serious", and extended for only three months instead of six.
Although Sweden extended for only three months in November 2018, it then added another three months, with the same details, once that extension expired in February 2019. The next full round of extensions came on May 12, 2019, with the following changes:
  • Germany changed its reason for border controls to just "migration and security policy".
  • Austria changed its reason from "security situation in Europe and threats resulting from the continuous significant secondary movements" to just "security situation in Europe and continuous significant secondary movements", removing the reference to "threats" from migrants and refugees.
  • Denmark limited its allowed border checks to again only apply to the land border and ferry ports connecting it to Germany, ruling out controls for entries from other Schengen countries or flights from German airports. It also shortened its stated justification to "severe threat to public order and internal security", removing the word "persistent".
  • Sweden continued to reserve the right to to border checks at all borders, but softened its language, stating that controls were "to be determined but may concern all [Schengen-]internal borders".
  • Norway changed its reason to just "security situation in Europe"
The five countries' most recent six-month extension began on November 12, valid until May 12, 2020.
  • Germany changed its official reason for border checks from "migration and security policy" to "secondary movements, situation at [Schengen-]external borders".
  • Austria changed its reason to "secondary movements, risk related to terrorists and organized  crime, situation at the external borders".
  • Denmark expanded its right to conduct border checks to include not only land and ferry connections from Germany, but also the bridge and ferry connections from Sweden, listing "terrorist threats, organized criminality from Sweden" as its justification.
  • Sweden changed its reason to "terrorist threats, shortcomings at the external borders". The term "external borders" refers to the borders between Schengen countries and non-Schengen countries - the outside edge of the Schengen Area.
  • Norway reduced the scope of its border checks to again only include ports with ferries from Denmark, Germany, and Sweden, ruling out controls on the land borders with Sweden and Finland, sea arrivals to non-ferry ports, and all flights arriving from Schengen countries. It changed its reason to "terrorist threats, secondary movements"

France's Special Extensions
Unlike the other five countries with long-term border checks, France has been reserving the right to maintain controls on all its borders ever since 2015 - except, presumably, the boundary with tiny Monaco, which for border control purposes is already treated like part of France.

In the past, France's controls were mostly justified explicitly as an anti-terrorism measure, in contrast to the other five countries' focus on refugees and immigration. However, after the November 2018 expiration of the country's internal state of emergency - part of its legal justification for the border checks - France has also begun alluding migration as one of its reason reasons as extending ("situation at the external borders" refers to refugees and immigrants trying to cross into the Schengen Area from places like Italy and Greece).

The French border controls were first declared in 2015, and have been in place ever since then, after being extended ten times:

Start Date Duration Stated Reason
Nov. 13, 2015* 1 month Paris Climate Change Conference 
Dec. 14, 2015 6 months, 12 days "emergency state as introduced further to Paris attacks"
May 27, 2016 2 months Euro 2016 and Tour de France
July 26, 2016 6 months "emergency state as introduced further to Nice attack"
Jan. 27, 2017 5 months, 18 days "persistent terrorist threat"
July 16, 2017 3 months, 15 days "persistent terrorist threat"
Nov. 1, 2017 6 months "persistent terrorist threat"
April 30, 2018 6 months "persistent terrorist threat"
Nov. 1, 2018 6 months "Terrorist threats, situation at the external borders, upcoming high level political meetings"
May 1, 2019 6 months "Terrorist threats, situation at the external borders"
Oct. 31, 2019 6 months "persistent terrorist threat, upcoming high profile political event in Paris, secondary movements"

*France's November-December 2015 border controls were only for air and land borders (sea ports were excluded)

France's current border controls are set to expire (or up for renewal) on April 30, 2020.

Truly Temporary Border Controls

Alongside all of these long-term extensions, countries sometimes still declare truly temporary border checks, which have always been normal within the Schengen system. In November 2017, Sweden introduced controls for one week at the Gothenburg Airport and the Sweden-Norway Svinesund Bridge as a security measure for an EU economic summit, and Austria announced controls for additional borders twice in 2018: in July, the Innsbruck Airport and the North Tyrol region's borders with Germany and Italy, for an "informal meeting of Justice and Home Affairs Ministers"; and in September, the Salzburg Airport and the eastern parts of the German and Italian borders, for an "informal meeting of the European Council".

From late November to early December of 2018, Poland announced checks on all its borders for security during 24 days while it hosted the 24th UN Climate Change Conference, and again for a week in February 2019 when it hosted a US-led conference on Middle East geopolitics. The next UN Climate Change Conference was hosted by Spain, and for 16 days in November and December 2019, the country announced border checks along the land border with France, as well as for arriving ships (mostly on the northern coast) and airline flights (mainly to Madrid and Barcelona) even from other Schengen countries.

Related Articles:
Which Countries Are in the Schengen Area, and Which EU Countries Aren't? 
Map of Temporary Schengen Border Controls in March 2016 
Map of Temporary Schengen Border Controls in August 2016 
Map of Temporary Schengen Border Controls in February 2017 
Map of Temporary Schengen Border Controls in August 2017
Map of Temporary Schengen Border Controls in March 2020 (Coronavirus Pandemic)

Note about sources: This article's information on official border control announcements comes from the European Union's "Full list of Member States' notifications of the temporary reintroduction of border control at internal borders pursuant to Article 25 et seq. of the Schengen Borders Code", available online in PDF format. Summaries of the current situation can also be found on the official Temporary Reintroduction of Border Control webpage, though the PDF list is sometimes more up-to-date.