Europe is inching back to “normal,” but what is the “normal” in post-corona times? Though curfews have been relaxed, small shops are getting back to business in some places, and schools are reopening in Denmark, Europe as we knew it is not there. And it will probably not be there for many months to come. First of all, if we were talking about “Fortress Europe” before, it is now really “inaccessible Europe.” One may not travel to most countries in Europe without citizenship or primary residence there. It does not matter if you have family members, business or own property, or have a valid visa. All that is simply meaningless — as if such a situation is “normal.” 

President of France Emmanuel Macron suggested that the entire Schengen area should remain in lockdown, with closed borders to foreigners, until at least September. Macron’s proposal was put forward in a video conference with trade unions on April 11, but we heard echoes of his cautious if not restrictive tone from the European Union Commission President Ursula von der Leyen in the same days, too. She warned that “holiday plans to Europe” should be put on hold for this summer, stating that:

“At the moment, no one can make reliable forecasts for July and August. We will need to learn to live with this virus for many months, probably until next year. Travelers hoping for some summer sun in the next few months are already facing uncertainty.”

While some of the European Parliament members are disputing the feasibility of such a prolonged closure of borders, it will be the executive of the EU Commission and the national leaders making the ultimate decisions. 

Macron has already disputed the applicability of Schengen by stating that “common borders, Schengen, the Dublin accords do not work anymore” when he criticized EU asylum policies last year. 

Who will advocate for open borders: Will there be leaders or political movements visionary and strong enough to make case for going beyond borders through cooperation, and expanding freedoms rather than curbing them?

Unlikely — for the time being.

So, the rest of the world will be like the “delivery guys” for Europe, even if returning back to “normal” begins: stepping inside the gates only to deliver services. That’s not so “foreign” to Turkey’s citizens, who were able to obtain short-term visas to European countries. In the new “normal,” Turkey’s citizens or not, regardless of nationality, the only non-Europeans entering the gates of the EU will be transport personnel (like drivers), residency holders and some very selective cases of business or service providers for some time to come. 

This is certainly disappointing: there could be ways to prevent new waves of the coronavirus pandemic without sacrificing Schengen and the freedom of movement so drastically. 

Nilgün Arısan Eralp, director of the the EU Studies Center of Economic Policy Research Foundation (TEPAV) wrote the following:

“The coronavirus has actually shown us that such a dangerous pandemic can be dealt with through supra-national mechanisms like the EU. Not a single country can cope with such an enormous and disruptive problem on its own, no matter how wealthy, resourceful and technologically developed it is. A trans-national governance system is necessary for an efficient strategy to combat the coronavirus and for the moment the only example is the EU. We should observe it very carefully, try to learn from its mistakes and do our utmost to find solutions to the failures of a trans-national governance system rather than finding comfort in EU bashing.”

Bashing or not, there is a lot that can be criticized about the way the EU responded to the “corona crisis.” But perhaps we should save our energies within and outside the European borders to come up with new and creative ways of transborder cooperation and institutionalization.

“It takes so little, so infinitely little, for someone to find himself on the other side of the border, where everything — love, convictions, faith, history — no longer has meaning. The whole mystery of human life resides on the fact that it is spent in the immediate proximity of, and even in direct contact with, that border, that it is separated from it not by kilometers but by barely a millimeter,” wrote Milan Kundera in “The Book of Laughter and Forgetting.”

When he wrote that, Kundera had the borders of the Iron Curtain and the East/West divide within Europe. Those are bygone times, and the corona times will be long gone, too.  We have to look ahead, beyond the corona-affected borders of today, and create at least the imagination of “Europe sans frontiers.” We have to refuse to bow down to the enslavement of borders: first the fear was all about refugees, and then immigrants. Now it is virtually everyone else other than “Europeans.” What next? Will it come to the degree that “some Europeans are more European than others” — so that even citizenship will not be enough to step inside the gates of Europe?

Reality begins with imagination, even when you are locked away, barred, restricted. What is Europe, if it is not for freedoms, rights, and equality, after all?