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In the past month, all Schengen countries announced strict border controls even within the Schengen area and even for EU citizens. However European borders are extremely porous given the large number of border towns and small international roads that go across forests and fields.

So how are these Schengen borders enforced in practice?

NB: I am not in the Schengen area currently, nor am I planning to go there and cross any borders.

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    Note that not all Schengen countries have announced strict border controls with their neighbours. France hasn't, for instance. But you do need a good reason to move through France anyway, so the enforcement of the latter indirectly implies the former even if there is no such rule. – jcaron Apr 10 at 14:06
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    I keep picturing the Robin Hood: Men in Tights bridge fight.... – CGCampbell Apr 10 at 21:29
  • Just after the border was closed there was a documentation for how the Swiss border is being controlled: youtube.com/watch?v=GMKJUBSRQnI They also use air surveillance. It's in German, but Auto-Translate seems to work pretty good for the subtitles. – Julius Apr 13 at 9:37
  • @Julius Some borders are secured the old fashioned way – dotancohen Apr 13 at 9:50
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This is enforced the way most rules are enforced: catching the low hanging fruits, deterring others and generally making it more costly/statistically less likely to succeed even if you cannot stop everbody. That's true even in normal times and for some borders outside of the Schengen area or many other type of rules. Short of miliarizing a border East-German style (and even then), you cannot stop each and every person who wants to evade controls.

Just like most of the other lock-down measures (including shop closures and restrictions on movement inside countries), the goal is to reduce contacts, not stop them entirely. And it's still allowed to cross these borders for many purposes (cross-border work, returning to one's residence, goods transport)…

This also means the goal has never been to prevent people who are ready to make significant efforts to circumvent the restrictions (nor should it be) but mostly to impress upon everybody that movement is not desired. Stops on the motorways are perfectly adequate for this, in fact they might not even be really necessary, reducing rail and air traffic already achieves most of the desired effect.

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Depending on the Jurisdiction, many of the former border guards were integrated into a national police responsible for internal security. In Germany, where state police are responsible for local law enforcement, the Federal Police are responsible for railways since they cross the state borders.

These forces, togeather with Customs and state police, have always remained active in one form or another behind the border. Customs may check anyone within a 30 KM distance from a customs border, checking for goods allowed in one country but not allowed in another. Between Germany and Poland this often occurs for checks against weapons, fireworks or fertilizers - where different standards exist.

Simple barriers are placed on road or bridge crossings:

  • river/mountain borders are easy to control (Germany / Poland, polish side)

  • City bridge Frankfurt(Oder) / Słubice, Polish side, 2020-04-06

  • Land border (Germany / Denmark), less so

There are still national and customs borders depite the European Union, only their tasks are now much more simplified than they were before. In most cases most people don't notice it (which is the intention), but the infrastructure is still there, but have been scaled down.

Such measures cause a strain on such resources, but it is intended only for a short term and the amount if people out and about are much less than normal.


Well, the German-Danish land border has recently been equipped with a fence against migrant boars ...

This fence (1.5 meters high) was built between January and December 2019.

You will also find such (lower) fences on the German / Polish border, where the river in not very wide.

enter image description here

  • Fürst Pückler Park, Bad Muskau, Sachsen, August 2019

Also in Berlin it is also not uncommon on the river front to forests, where until the opening of the border, the the border fortifications were an effective barrier (Western Berlin was until then rabies free).

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  • Well, the German-Danish land border has recently been equipped with a fence against migrant boars ... – Hagen von Eitzen Apr 13 at 9:55
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At this time, there are police patrols along the German and Dutch border, both sides. The border is not completely closed, Germans who insists have to be allowed into the Netherlands, while Dutch who want to go into Germany have to proof a very good reason and cheaper petrol or shopping is not a good enough reason and fines are given.

I have heard of other countries that have the same kind of police patrols near the borders, but there may well be other variations as well.

I am in the Netherlands but nowhere near the border, it was on the national news on the radio.

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    In the Netherland you are never far from the border. – d-b Apr 10 at 23:03
  • @d-b that depends on what you mean by "far," of course. You can get a lot farther from a land border in the Netherlands than you can in Belgium, for example. – phoog Apr 11 at 2:13
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    As I live 5 km from the west coast, I am about as far from the border with Germany as possible. May not seem far for other people but it is for me. – Willeke Apr 11 at 5:25
  • @d-b In The Netherlands we think 30 km is far. – gerrit Apr 11 at 21:56
  • @phoog This applies more generally. Once on a trip through India, our driver remarked that we would now see a lot of military becasue we were close to the Pakistan border - only 300 km away. I think in Germany you can hardly (if at all) be 300 km away from all borders. – Hagen von Eitzen Apr 13 at 9:59
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I live about a 5min drive away from the Austrian Border. You can cross the border if you have an important reason to do so. (like work)

About twice a day there is a helicopter of the armed forces checking for attempts to bypass the efforts.

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Where borders have been closed, as far as I have seen on the news, they simply put up a barrier and a “no entry” sign as for, say, roadworks or public events. I have heard of police presence, but this does not seem to happen at all border crossings and not all the time.

Border closures vary from member state to member state: Not all states have closed their borders. Some have closed their borders to some neighbors but not to others, or in one direction but not in the other, and there are various exceptions for crossing the otherwise closed border for a valid reason.

Also, some member states have restricted people from even leaving their home, except for a valid reason (such as grocery shopping, going to work or to get medical treatment). If such restrictions are in place on either side of the border, people would not even be able to travel to the border and/or away from it. Anybody moving around in public might be stopped by police, no matter what side of the border they came from. Enforcement in such cases tends to take place where violations are most likely to happen (say, in public parks and the like).

Lack of public transportation across borders is also a kind of enforcement: people who do not have a car and do not live near the border have hardly any way of crossing the border these days.

Lastly, the fact that something is unlawful, subject to fines and will be enforced (even if just sporadically) is enough to keep many people from doing it. (After all, most people observe speed limits most of the time.)

All of these things together reduce cross-border movement sufficiently to prevent COVID-19 from spreading, which is, after all, what all the measures are about.

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    Technical note: countries that allow domestic travel but not international travel within the Schengen area are hypocrites as this means the virus moves around freely still. Going from Prague to Berlin is no different from going from Munich to Berlin. – JonathanReez Apr 11 at 18:54
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    Just as going to a grocery store with a mask on is false security if you pick up things that many others have handled to read labels, or handle cash that’s been in hundreds of pockets. – WGroleau Apr 11 at 19:23
  • A mask is a great reminder for other people to keep their distance though. But yes, people touch things in shops. Which is why you wear your gloves. – Hennes Apr 11 at 22:53
  • Masks are also a good reminder to not touch your face. I am really bad at remembering and I find a fabric mask+my eyeglasses are a great combination to keep face-touching to an absolute minimum, which is why I personally choose to wear a mask, even if it offers minimal other protection. – stan Apr 12 at 9:26
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    First off, the main purpose of a mask is not to protect you from other people’s germs, but to protect other people from your germs (which, in the case of COVID-19, you might be spreading without even realizing it). Secondly, we are talking risk management here: the purpose is to slice a sizable chunk off the probability of occurrence (i.e. of yet another infection), even if you cannot bring it down to zero. – user149408 Apr 12 at 14:54

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