Whether for family reunions – or even just for a spot of cross-border shopping – the closure of borders with European Union countries has hit some Swiss residents hard.
With border controls absent for years, crossing the border to visit friends or to go shopping was for many a daily occurrence. Families, too, have been separated by the imposition of coronavirus border controls.
For families, despite some slight relaxations by the Swiss government on May 11th, in many cases border crossings for family reunions remain prohibited – or are up to the discretion of border guards.
Recent statements from the EU however indicate the loosening of border controls is unlikely until mid-June. Switzerland is particularly affected due to its proximity – and shared border with – northern Italy.
Flags along the Swiss border near Geneva. Photo: FABRICE COFFRINI / AFP
Crossing from Switzerland into the EU
Switzerland shares a border with the EU nations of Italy, France, Germany and Austria, all of which have put in place border controls since the coronavirus outbreak.
Liechtenstein also shares a border but has not had border controls put in place with Switzerland.
Late on Monday, the European Commission indicated that borders are likely to remain tight until at least mid-June.
As reported in the Handelsblatt, the EU Commission is developing a plan according to which borders will be opened. This plan is likely to be released on Wednesday.
This is likely to happen pursuant to conditions however – including that coronavirus infections remain low.
“As the health situation gradually improves, the balance should change towards full freedom of movement for people,” the draft statement reads.
Cross-border shopping restricted
The high price of goods in Switzerland means plenty of Swiss residents cross the border to go shopping regularly – something that has not been possible for two months.
This has had a devastating effect on border regions which have become economically reliant on Swiss shoppers.
As reported in 20 Minutes on Tuesday, Swiss residents spend an estimate 10 billion francs per year shopping in border regions – an amount which has dried up since the border closures.
One silver lining has been the benefit to the Swiss economy, with local retailers seeing a boost to their bottom lines as a result of the border closure.
A collection of 15 mayors from southern Germany have begun a campaign to push for the border with Switzerland to be reopened. However, while this may be relaxed for families in the coming weeks, cross-border shopping is likely to remain restricted until at least June.
Switzerland itself restricted crossing the border for the purposes of shopping – even if the person crossing the border held valid entry documents (i.e. work permit) – from April 16th, 2020.