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Border closures – the threat to cross-border ecommerce


On Monday of this week Sweden and Denmark reintroduced border controls, adding their names to the list of European countries now restricting free movement in the wake of the refugee crisis facing the continent.
First Sweden introduced border checks with Denmark, that prompted Denmark to announce spot checks along its border with Germany; this kind of domino effect makes the threat of more border closures across Europe very real, and with it will come costly implications for the delivery supply chain.

In July last year, we looked at Operation Stack – the UK initiative to control the flow of heavy goods vehicles across the Channel – which was believed to be costing the haulage industry around £700,000 per day. Similarly, diversions put in place in December to avoid the closed Forth Road Bridge in Scotland were said to be costing a combined £600,000 per day.

Although the picture is still not completely clear, commuters travelling across the Øresund strait between Sweden and Denmark now face an extra 30 minutes added to their 40 minute journeys – journeys which had been free of ID checks since the 1950s. Denmark’s decision to close its border with Germany is likely to have similar effects, and the potential for cumulative delays to freight travelling between Sweden, Denmark and Germany consequently starts to look significant. These are, after all, three of the most mature ecommerce economies in Europe with high levels of cross-border shopping.

Border closures have the potential to lead to increased journey times, which will add to fuel costs, put pressure on Working Time Directive compliance, and make the process of timely cross-border delivery harder. It’s a situation that also has the potential to undermine one of the main tenets of the European Commission’s Digital Single Market strategy. As well as encouraging the growth of ecommerce in Europe, the Digital Single Market strategy has a stated aim of establishing a system of “more efficient and affordable parcel delivery” across Europe – something which looks less realistic in a Europe where the free movement of people and goods is under pressure.

In response to questions from eDelivery, Nathalie Vandystadt, the European Commission’s spokesperson on the Digital Single Market, culture, education and sport, said: “The possibility for Member States to temporarily reintroduce border controls at internal borders is provided for by the Schengen Borders Code in situations where there is a serious threat to public policy or internal security. The temporary reintroduction of border control at internal borders should remain exceptional and proportional.”

She also stressed that the Digital Single Market plan will not be adversely affected by recent events.

However, there are others in the industry that disagree. A spokesperson for the Road Haulage Association told eDelivery: “In the 70s, 80s and 90s, the increasingly free movement of goods and the increase of international road haulage was rightly hailed by the European Commission as a driver for growth and European integration.

“In practical terms we are seeing a bit by bit unravelling of the Schengen scheme which will increase haulage and associated costs and is likely to reverse the gains of earlier decades.”

Whether the EC’s goals will be affected by the threat of restricted movement is open to conjecture. Separate powers enshrined in EU law that allow individual countries to restrict the flow of goods are not currently in operation directly. But should the overall flow of people and goods across the continent become increasingly restricted there may be those in the industry that have to face some difficult decisions, particularly if their businesses – or some of the services offered by those businesses – are based on financial models predicated on the kind of unrestricted movement that is so central to the very idea of modern Europe, and which now look less certain than they have for a long time.

If you have thoughts and opinions on this issue, please get in touch – either by leaving a comment below or by emailing via this link.

Main image – Øresund bridge – copyright Håkan Dahlström. View original here.

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