Of borders, bubbles, and viruses

The pandemic unleashed in the early months of 2020 has affected border controls in Europe and beyond in ways that were until recently unimaginable. New territorial configurations regulating cross-border mobility have emerged, the most notorious being the “travel zone,” the “corridor,” and the “bubble”. These arrangements represent an instance of “excised territories” carved out of existing spatial configurations within or between jurisdictions – whether international (e.g., the corridor linking Spain’s Balearic Islands with selected European countries, or the “travel bubble” among Baltic states) or sub-national (e.g., the twinning of border regions within Europe with similar color codes, or outside Europe, Canada’s “Atlantic bubble,” which includes three contiguous provinces in the East of the country). While the reliance on “corridors” indicates the instrumental nature of these arrangements (as spaces connecting one location to another), the use of “bubbles” implies a more explicitly social dimension. As a sociological term, “bubble” describes the relationships between the outside world and an individual or group. “Social bubbles” evoke a sense of coziness, predictability, and protection, but also malleability and flexibility, as they can expand or shrink depending on the circumstances. When applied to a particular geographical area, this phenomenon is referred to as a “tourist bubble”: a site where tourists are shielded from the locals (completely or in part) to maintain a sense of homeliness or prevent them from disturbing the residents. In the case of the current pandemic, however, the bubble represents an uncanny reversal of its original meaning. Indeed, pandemic bubbles do not protect tourists from locals. Instead, these arrangements shield the locals from everybody else. They also evoke some of the negative connotations of social bubbles, specifically the insularity that the discouragement of interactions with people with different opinions and narrow mindedness entails—the type of dynamics encapsulated in the “echo chamber effect” on social media. They also evoke hostility against those who breach a bubble, as attested by the string of recent “license-shaming” incidents against non-local drivers in some of these bubbles. The tracking of incomers also creates a sense of siege mentality, even panic. The sense of lightness that should accompany the term “bubble” seems to be lost in the metaphor. Indeed, terms such as “perimeter” or “fence” might be more apt to describe these phenomena…

Europe’s borders in 2020: a visual review

The end of an extraordinary year, affecting every corner of the world, including European borders! But it has not been just about Covid. Brexit and the Mediterranean once again make it into the list, among other border-related events across the Old Continent. Below you will find a visual review of 12 months to remember…

January

The journeys through Europe’s southern border continue…

Photo: Migrants on an overcrowded wooden boat in the Mediterranean Sea on January 10, 2020 | Photo: Picture-alliance/AP Photo/Santi Palacios

February

Violence at Europe South-Eastern border

Photo: Signs of violence on an asylum seeker in northern Turkey at the Greek border.  Belal Khaled

March

Covid hits, and Europe’s internal borders shut down (the temporary barriers series)

A temporary border barrier between Belgium and the Netherlands. Nico Vereecken / Photonews via Getty

Another temporary border barrier between Belgium and the Netherlands. Robin Utrecht/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty

A temporary border barrier in Poland. Stefan Sauer/picture alliance via Getty

Check point at a Czech Republic border. Sebastian Kahnert/picture alliance via Getty

A temporary border check between Poland and Germany. ODD ANDERSEN/AFP via Getty

A makeshift border between Germany and the Czech Republic. Hendrik Schmidt/picture alliance via Getty

A temporary border barrier between Denmark and Germany. Frank Molter/picture alliance via Getty

The Vatican City-Italy border. REMO CASILLI/Reuters

(Sources for Temporary barriers series: Thomas Pallini, “Photos show the emergency makeshift borders European countries have erected in an attempt to stop the spread of COVID-19”, Business Insider, 4 April 2020. https://www.businessinsider.com/coronavirus-european-borders-closed-in-response-to-covid-19-2020-4)

April

‘Temporary’ shut down of Europe’s borders extended…

A makeshift border between Germany and Switzerland. ARND WIEGMANN/Reuters

May

Europe reopens (some of) its internal borders

Photo: Luxembourg and German Foreign Ministers stand on the bridge over the Moselle River at the reopened border between the two countries on Saturday 16 May 2020. Credit: Oliver Dietze/dpa/Alamy Live News June

June

Europe continues to reopen (some of) its internal borders

Swiss customs officials open a fence closing the Swiss-French border in Thonex near Ambilly, France AFP

July

Summer European travelling in times of Covid…

Checking for coronavirus symptoms, Leonardo da Vinci–Fiumicino Airport in Rome, Italy, June 3, 2020. /AP

August

Entry-Exit System Pilot Project to Be Launched at EU Land Borders

September

The Swiss say yes to (continued) free movement in the EU

Photo: A poster of the Action for an independent and neutral Switzerland (AUNS) reading: “It’s getting tight -Yes to the anti-immigration initiative”. Adliswil, Switzerland September 15, 2020. REUTERS/Arnd Wiegmann/File Photo

October

The second wave hits European borders

Photo:  Checks at Hungary’s border. Gergely Besenyei/AFP/Getty Images

November

France calls for the reform of Schengen (again)

Photo: French President Emmanuel Macron during a visit to the border between France and Spain | Pool photo by Guillaume Horcajuelo/AFP via Getty Images

December

UK-EU deal and a new border in Gibraltar

Photo: Gibraltar. AP

A taste of Brexit’s Kent border?

Photo: Lorries line up on the way to Dover; PA

HAPPY 2021!!!

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