As Europe stumbles in a spread field into phase II of the Wuhan virus response, crossing borders becomes the issue of debate. Although Brits have been warned that they won't be let out for Summer, much of tourist Europe isn't so sanguine. Austria has been trying to re-open the border with Germany, to allow in the floods of German tourists, but so far Germany has refused - and with a second wave of infections coming to Germany, is unlikely to do so.
There's no move from Austria to re-open the border with Italy - they're quite happy with having it closed - but the two nations announced yesterday that cowherds tending herds on the alm
, the high alpine summer pastures that frequently straddle the borders, could cross at will. These almhutte
high in the mountains are often popular with girl students spending a Summer away together, a group of five or six doing the daily milking and making cheese from May until September. Often connected only by steep cattle tracks, with no vehicular access, where everything has to be carried up and down, it's regarded as quality time away. When it's time to bring the cows back down to the valleys in Autumn,
the girls will go back to university. Or not. There are reputed to be almhutte
that actually sit on the border, with the bedroom in Italy and the kitchen in Austria, rather like the Irish border.
The UK has announced that no quarantine will be needed for those crossing from France, only to earn a rebuke from the technocrats from their bunker beneath the Berlaymont. It turns out we can
do it under their EU laws, but only if we say 'no quarantine for residents of France' rather than 'no quarantine for anyone entering from France'. Go figure. I suppose we must therefore bang-up Polish truck drivers for a fortnight if we pay any attention to the dreary officials in Brussels. Which I hope we won't.
Whilst the Germans won't be able to come to Austria, the Austrians won't be able to visit their own favourite destinations in Spain. I'm not sure where the Spanish won't be able to go - except Portugal, of course, which will also be missing the English. Meanwhile Croatia is planning an air-corridor to fly in their preferred Summer guests, the Czechs. Greece, like Austria a heavy-smoking nation with a low rate of infection, is ambivalent about losing her crucial Summer trade. Perhaps she should open only to Europe's smokers - each visitor having to drag deeply on a Capstan full strength at the airport on arrival to validate their status.
Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia have already opened their mutual borders, but with about a third of the population still working in the UK as bar-staff (now furloughed) there will be barely enough natives left to fill the foreign tourist restaurant tables. "What's the local speciality?" "Liver dumplings." "Oh that's strange. That's our speciality back home as well".
But remarkably, Europeans are reverting to a national border mindset more swiftly than I would ever have imagined possible after the Shengen experience. And that may be the biggest worry for Brussels.