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Editorial AEBR newsletter Winter 2020

We are writing this editorial on 26 March 2020, 25 years after Schengen Agreement came into force (after ten years of its signing), when many European borders have been closed: the WHO declares Coronavirus outbreak a global pandemic (11/03). Air and sea traffic between Spain and Morocco suspended (12/03). Germany ready to close part of its borders with France, Austria and Switzerland (15/03). Spain closes its land borders. The EU closes its external borders for the first time and won’t let third countries’ nationals to come in (17/03). Other countries have closed their borders in the last days, and more will follow. “Europe without borders” was set in stone, but this had to be removed to control the pandemic. Whenever this is over, we should appreciate better this right, and think of those who don’t enjoy it.

Today we share with you our Winter Newsletter, already in Spring. We took some time to adapt to the current situation and wanted to provide you as soon as possible with some information about most relevant events in the last months and expected issues in the coming ones. However, Covid-19 has changed the global scenario, at supranational and at very local level. Europe has stopped its rush, and priorities have changed.

Now, all EU Member States have adopted measures to fight Covid-19. The effects of this pandemic can only be predicted for the time being. There are no certainties yet, but European health systems are reacting very strongly, despite of the huge task, and citizens have accepted the need to be at home for an undetermined period of time. The only result to be expected is the full control of the pandemic, sooner or later. We have accepted these severe restrictions to our fundamental right of free movement, because the objective is to contain the virus. However, this might also cause serious problems in border regions.

We started to prepare our quarterly magazine with information about our annual events in Dresden in October 2019 and our Executive Committee in Flensburg in February 2020. Some events organized in between and most relevant information about our current major projects: IVY, which has become three years old last week, and b-solutions, extended until December 2021. Very good news, but opposed by the general trend towards strong nationalistic approaches, euro-scepticism, etc., plus a failed Summit of EU Leaders on the budget for the period 2021-2027, similar to the Summit on Coronavirus (economy still prevails over politics in the EU, and some member states have not understood yet the need to react jointly: most important challenges do not know about national boundaries!). Well, we thought we were facing business as usual, and prepared for a delicate negotiation about the budget and the priorities of the EU, including a strong fight between “traditional” and “new” priorities. But, suddenly, the Coronavirus jumped into Europe and started ravage Northern Italy, Madrid and Catalonia, and other European regions followed.

We are facing severe restrictions to our daily life, and this is even much stronger in border regions. They are acceptable because we need to contain the spread of the virus, but we cannot forget that this causes serious problems in border regions if it extends too long, especially when there is a strong interdependence. Some member states have established exceptions for cross-border workers, while others haven’t. Some regions, such as German Länder and Dutch Provinces have organized measures with their neighbours, but others are not allowed to do so. The Spanish Government and others have established exceptions for cross-border workers, but some EU Member States have closed their borders under lock and key. We are analysing various cases in order to prepare a proposal to the European Commission to take into account the need to adapt measures, regulations and other provisions to the reality of (cross-)border regions.

To this end, we have organized a repository of specific cases in order to illustrate specific effects in border regions of measures taken to control the pandemic. Any testimony will be welcomed!

This is the major sanitary crisis in our continent in the last century and, under these circumstances, let us express to all of you, on behalf of AEBR, our encouragement to be very strong, patient and lucid. Let us also ensure you of our deepest sympathy, which will accompany you throughout those tribulations.

To fight a global danger requires citizens to co-ordinate and build collective answers. In the current case, and this is one among the many paradoxes of our post-modern times, our natural reflexes of citizenship and participation, our basic freedoms, must be turned into the strictest respect of confinement and “social distance” obligations, so as to limit the spread of the virus.

Nevertheless, within our cross-border family, and thanks to modern communication tools, we have gone on. In these and coming difficult weeks, I would like to share the words of Prof. Eymeri-Douzans, President of the European Group of Public Administration: “we know that ours is one of those precious spaces where we can continue communicating, informing, exchanging, reassuring, encouraging and, last but not least, helping each other morally. Such lively exchanges will help us to anticipate the better days to come after the crisis, days in which we will be so glad to meet again and to share our views on the Covid-19 crisis management, the resilience of our societies, the necessary changes to be made to our public administrations and policies.”

Please take great care of yourselves and your beloved ones, stay safe and be in contact!

All the best,

The AEBR Team

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