New Old Borders

Isabel
Salzburg, 22 de Maio 2020

I live in Salzburg, Austria (European Union (EU)), a city at the German border. Austria went on lockdown on 17 March 2020. People were asked to leave the house only in case they need to buy essential goods or assist others to do so, have to go to work, or to go for a walk. It was no-longer allowed to meet people not living in the same household. All non-essential shops, restaurants, theatres, recreational facilities et cetera closed. Travel was banned. As a consequence, I had to cancel a trip to New York City, where friends of mine live and all the theatre performances for which I already had bought tickets were cancelled. I could contact friends and family via regular video calls.

If possible, people started to work from home, as did I. For others, the crisis meant that they were laid off, asked to take part of their annual leave or their work hours were capped (in part subsidized by the state). The unemployment rate rocketed to 12.8 percent (national definition) in April 2020. As a PhD, however, none of these economic consequences affected me personally in the short run. On the contrary, right before the COVID-19 crisis hit Europe, I had transitioned to the final writing phase of my thesis. In this phase, many aspects of what was forced on European citizens, i.e. social distancing and almost no leisure time activities, I would have had to practice anyway, in order to keep the writing flow going. What did affect my work, were the reactions of the EU, since the design of some of the newly created financial instruments affect the doctrinal legal research I conduct. Also, all academic events were cancelled, postponed or moved online.

What affected me more, was the hard border emerging between Austria and Germany. Austria acceded to the EU in 1995, providing for free movement of goods, services, people and capital. The country became part of Schengen Agreement, an agreement on the abolition of border controls, in 1997. Since then, until the 2015 migration crisis, I have been used to open borders in Europe. That changed during the COVID-19 crisis. Suddenly, I was cut off from my family, who lives in nearby Germany and whom I was not able to see in person for nine weeks. With my parents, I continued with video calls what, however, was nearly impossible with my grandparents.

On 14 April 2020, smaller shops were allowed to re-open and it became mandatory to cover mouth and nose, when entering shops or public transport. As of 1 May 2020, larger shops and some service providers followed. The lockdown provisions have been amended, so that one could meet one other person, while keeping a distance of one meter. Since then, I met two dear friends for a walk. Although, I must admit that with close friends, keeping the required distance was rather hard, as one ‘converged’ naturally to the normal distance one would keep. Apart from that, no other offline social activities have taken place for me so far. On 9 May 2020, the city of Salzburg announced that there were no knowingly active Corona cases. Since then, there have also been no new infections confirmed in the region of Salzburg. On Mother’s Day, and then from 12 May 2020 onwards, the border was opened for family visits. On 15 May 2020, restaurants and more service providers will re-open their businesses. Eventually, my parents could come visit!