Borders should remain open: EU countries for new travel restrictions

Borders should remain open
EU countries for new travel restrictions

At the beginning of the corona pandemic, a number of EU countries closed their borders, which led to chaos in the movement of goods. One wants to avoid repetition this time. At a summit, the member states agree on further travel restrictions. The internal borders should remain open.

In the fight against the corona pandemic, the 27 EU countries want to further restrict unnecessary travel. However, the European borders should remain as open as possible for goods and commuters. This was reported by EU Council Chairman Charles Michel on Thursday evening after an EU video summit. The feared new virus variants should be tracked down more specifically and the vaccination campaign should get better momentum. There should be an EU vaccination certificate, but initially no advantages for vaccinated people, for example when traveling.

Michel said member states were very concerned about the new, more contagious virus variants. Therefore, the restrictions would have to be maintained and in some cases tightened. However, the borders must remain open for the internal market to continue to function, Michel added. EU Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen explained that her authority wanted to propose an expansion of the existing Corona traffic light card. Accordingly, a new "dark red" category is to be introduced for regions in which the coronavirus is spreading very widely.

On the existing map, regions are already marked either green, orange or red based on common criteria, depending on the infection process. Von der Leyen said that people who want to travel from the dark red zones in the future could be required to have a test before departure and quarantine after arrival. Travel that is not necessary should be strongly discouraged. A ban on unnecessary travel – as discussed in Belgium, for example – is not provided. However, each country can decide for itself anyway.

Regarding the vaccinations, which have only started slowly in the EU, Michel said that the heads of state and government wanted an acceleration. However, the principle should remain that vaccines are distributed in the EU at the same time and according to population size.

Merkel does not rule out controls

Before the summit, Chancellor Angela Merkel had campaigned for closer cooperation with the EU states, but did not completely rule out controls at German borders. "If a country with an incidence that is perhaps twice as high as Germany opens all shops while they are still closed in our country, then of course you have a problem," she said in Berlin.

In the Schengen area, to which 26 European countries belong, there is actually freedom of movement without stationary border controls. However, at the beginning of the pandemic, a number of countries had, in some cases uncoordinated, closed borders or initiated controls. At the German border with Poland, traffic was jammed for tens of kilometers. Perishable goods did not reach their destination, and cross-border commuters had problems getting to work.

The EU Commission absolutely wants to avoid a repetition. However, some countries are already controlling their borders again, including Hungary, Austria and Denmark. The virus mutations discovered in Great Britain and South Africa have sparked new fears because they could be more contagious than previous variants. Luxembourg Foreign Minister Jean Asselborn strictly rejected border controls or closings within the EU. If commuters could no longer come to Luxembourg, for example, the health system there would collapse, he warned on Deutschlandfunk. Germany urges commuters to be tested more often. Merkel said that they are also in talks with the countries of origin.

There is still a rumble when it comes to vaccination in many EU countries. At the video summit, there were many questions about transparency and delivery schedules for the various vaccines, reported an EU representative. Because the companies Biontech and Pfizer can deliver less vaccine than planned at short notice, some vaccination appointments have been canceled in Germany.

The Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz wrote on Twitter that at the video summit everyone agreed that vaccines should be delivered as soon as possible. He expects Astrazeneca's vaccine to be approved no later than next week. The EU Commission is also expecting new vaccines and larger quantities soon and is urging the 27 states to set ambitious goals. By summer, 70 percent of adults in the EU are said to be immunized against the virus, and by March 80 percent of people over the age of 80 and of nursing and health workers.

Merkel was cautious. The Chancellor merely affirmed that everyone in Germany wanted to be offered a vaccination offer by the end of summer – that is, by September 21st.