ECAS is launching a study in order to asses the impact of the pandemic and the related measures on mobile EU citizens and their rights. The data for this citizen-centric study will come from the surveys conducted via our crowdsourcing platform. We value your opinion! Thank you for sharing your opinion and helping us safeguard European citizenship!
The effects of the outbreak of COVID-19 or the coronavirus, labelled a pandemic by the World Health Organization (WHO) on 11 March 2020, on the EU, the single market and the economies of the EU will be grave, but the most evident consequence of the public health-related measures in the context of the COVID-19 emergency and one of the first ‘victims’ of the crisis was the freedom of movement in the Union. One by one, member states have introduced temporary regimes of lockdown, entry restrictions and border management. While, the primary aim of the EU and national measures is the protection of citizens' health and ensuring that national health systems remain functional under unprecedented pressure, the proportionality of the measures and their impact on citizens’ fundamental rights and freedoms is an important question and an issue of concern in many countries.
The European Commission had first issued a guidance to Member States stating that any relevant border control measures should be coordinated amongst Member States at EU level in order to avoid diverging border control practices and ensure the adoption of measures that are based on sound scientific advice, as well as on the principles of necessity and proportionality. By the time the EU decided to temporarily close down its external border, at least 15 out of the 26 members of the passport-free Schengen zone have already unilaterally shut down their respective national borders. These measures have been accompanied by a proliferation of curfews, cancellations and domestic restrictions with a varying degree of restrictiveness and divergence.
All of these have given rise to concerns about the status quo and the future of free movement of people, goods and services - three pillars of European integration and the continent's economic success and essential part of the European citizens’ rights and fundamental freedoms with a direct impact on their human rights. ECAS’ Your Europe Advice service for European citizens and businesses has experienced a surge in individual COVID-19-related enquiries – 25% of all eligible enquiries in the last two weeks - which confirms that the beneficiaries of the freedom of movement in the EU are feeling at risk and increasingly concerned.
In addition to these legitimate concerns, with mobility itself under temporary suspension, mobile EU citizens seem to be particularly affected:
(a) Whereas most citizens in the EU can pass the quarantine with their families, mobile EU citizens often reside in a different member state, separated from their closest ones, thus
additionally aggravating the effects of social distancing in their case;
(b) Residents in a different member state, be they workers or students or job-seekers, are strongly encouraged to stay where they happen to be so as to avoid the danger of spreading the virus further across borders and face a more severe isolation than those whom the virus has found in their community;
(c) The beginning of outbreak in Europe was signaled with Italy as the ‘patient zero’ member state, which resulted in an initial rise of discriminatory fear from, skepticism and stigma of Italians residing in other EU member states;
(d) With media titles in a time of crisis often being oversimplifying, sensationalist or susceptible to disinformation, mobile EU citizens are faced with uncertainty whether unilateral measures exemptions apply just to nationals or also them as residents.
Moreover, national responses to the coronavirus outbreaks also include unilateral temporary emergency measures that limit, suspend or violate the rights of citizens, including therein their basic constitutional rights. It will be important to assess the long-term consequences of the alarming instances such as the Hungarian state of emergency, the announced derogation from the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) by Bulgaria, Romania, Estonia and Latvia, as well as the alleged attempts of others like Slovenia to capture the state apparatus using the Corona-crisis as a window of opportunity.
As executive action and national concerns take centerstage, it is of paramount importance not to lose track of the common European dimension, not only in terms of how the crisis is politically managed but in how European citizens, both mobile and stationary experience the galloping changes they face. Only with that in mind will we be able to restore the fundamental freedoms which now lay dormant in the post-crisis period.