Mankind is once again living through a historical crisis, and much has changed within our daily lives, our politics, and throughout the whole world. Things have become more challenging, including keeping borders open and welcoming for travel. This has been especially apparent within the EU borders.
Before the pandemic, countries within the Schengen zone of the EU were openly united without passport controls and with an inner market and political agreement. Together, the nations within the EU work together on pressing issues including climate change and working to prevent democratic backsliding. While the EU ties remain strong, there have certainly been some changes as the virus lingers.
By the end of March 2020, many major EU nations locked down. Schools and public places such as restaurants shut down. Although many leaders within the Schengen area challenged the recommendation of completely closing borders and implementing travel bans, leaders of these nations still strongly recommended that citizens should not travel. Countries across the EU set national restrictions for their citizens including city-wide lock downs.
About a year since then, EU nations have now slowly acclimated to life under a pandemic, from wearing face masks and social distancing to the new inability to cross borders. So how has the EU border policy changed since the start of the pandemic?
In short, EU member states have gone from having open borders with one another to being only open between those who have tested negative for the virus. In recent weeks, some countries have begun even tighter restrictions between shared borders with other EU states because of new regions deemed “mutation areas”. According to BBC news, Germany has completely banned travel across its Czech and Austrian borders, and has also banned travel with Slovakia, all of which have been known as “mutation areas”.
Because of this, many nations and leaders of nations have found themselves back in a rather ‘nationalist’ state, no longer wanting to open their borders to free travel in fear of spreading COVID-19; their greatest concern is now the well-being of their own citizens. Many fear that this newly found and somewhat universally forced nationalism will continue even after the pandemic, and that not only nations but citizens themselves will become increasingly wary of open-border policies and overall globalization. To me, this state of nationalism is a major disappointment, especially within the EU; most of this ‘nationalism’ stems from fear: fear that the very citizens of neighboring countries we once embraced will infect us with the virus. This paranoia seems to be the main root of our new sense of nationalism! It is a disgrace that the pandemic has flared up racism and xenophobia towards the Asian community, only because some ignorantly blame the virus on them.
Many are also concerned that the pandemic is pulling democracies within the EU apart. As the Chaillot Paper study titled “How Covid-19 Changed the Future – Geopolitical implications for Europe” (written by Florence Gaub and Lotje Boswinkel) reminds us, democratic backsliding was apparent world wide even before the pandemic hit (partly due to decreasing voter participation), but Covid-19 did not help with the matter. The Chaillot Paper states that the Municipal Elections voter turnout in France was incredibly low; 60% of voters chose to stay away from the polls.
Gaub and Boswinkle also voice that Covid-19 has sparked many protests against national lockdowns in EU countries such as Germany and worldwide. This was especially apparent in South American countries such as Brazil, as citizens took to the streets to protest against their government’s handling of the Covid-19 pandemic. Some nations postponing elections in 2020 could have been seen as anti-democratic (for instance, Poland rescheduled its Municipal election from May 10th to June 28th), but the same could be said about elections not postponed due to extremely low voter turnout, which does not fully represent a state as accurately as it should.
Overall, one cannot confidently state that the Covid-19 virus has ruined modern democracies, for the decline of democratic states has been apparent for the past decade; nor has it damaged the EU beyond repair. Personally, I believe Covid-19 can either make a nation stronger or completely break it apart, and from what I have observed worldwide, it seems to be resulting in the latter. However, as far as the EU goes, it seems to me to be handling the pandemic much better than other regions such as the USA and Brazil.
Historic events always leave their mark on the world. Many policies and ways of life have been changed by Covid-19. Democracies and politics are not the only aspect of the EU that has been scarred by the pandemic. The Chaillot paper explains how trade has significantly decreased, not just because of the closing of borders between EU member states, but because of the closing of factories and the rise in cost of the transportation of goods. Most importantly, this lack in trade has exposed the dependence that most western countries have always had on countries like China and India for medical goods and precautionary tools such as face masks. I believe this is a good eye-opener for westerners, helping us to realize the importance of our relations with different nations and that as we all rely on one another, we can come together in more diplomatic ways; thus, we can stand together and get through difficult events like the pandemic. Additionally, this newly-realized dependence can draw attention towards worker exploitation in countries like India and China. On the opposite hand, this realization of how much western countries depend on China has been unnerving to some nations and has led to discussion about decreasing trade with China. This is because extreme dependence on one nation and its productivity can lead to future conflicts and an imbalance in power between two nations. Considering this, I believe it would be better for EU countries and other western nations to start expanding their trade to a variety of countries and even begin production of certain products in their own lands; this will create a more balanced global trade economy and may even promote stronger economies in smaller nations such as Papua New Guinea and Rwanda.
Overall, the pandemic could potentially cause a detachment of trade ties between nations, and this could be equally good and bad. This may cause for a more diversified global trade economy, but could also create new conflicts between nations that had separated ties.
Once the pandemic hit, international organisations such as the World Health Organization (WHO) immediately began to work together to fund research about the virus and possible vaccines, and fund humanitarian aid donations for vulnerable countries. An example is the COVID-19 Tools Accelerator, founded in April 2020 by the WHO, France, the European Commission and The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. This was created to promote more fruitful and prompt international reactions towards Covid-19. This is just one example of how nations across the globe have come together to research and openly share their findings about the virus with one another. I am an optimist, and I believe that this revolutionary global collaboration will resonate for years to come, fostering a stronger international health team ready to aid suffering nations and conduct sufficient research for cures for global diseases and illnesses.
There is no telling exactly what the future holds for the EU, especially considering Covid-19 and what it has already affected; one can only speculate. Nonetheless, I believe it’s especially important to focus on the good that could be, instead of the bad, because hope is what will get us through these turbulent times.