Thursday

24th Sep 2020

Coronavirus

Commission: Hungary barring some EU citizens is illegal

  • Hungary's justice minister Judit Varga (l) and justice commissioner Didier Reynders (r) at a council meeting before social distancing (Photo: Council of the European Union)

EU justice commissioners Didier Reynders and home affairs commissioner Ylva Johansson have written to Hungary, stressing that there can be no discrimination between EU citizens when it comes to travel restrictions, the EU Commission said on Tuesday (1 September).

The letter comes as a reaction to the latest restrictions introduced the same day by Budapest, banning almost all foreigners from entering the country.

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On Monday, 24 hours before those new restrictions came into force, Hungary decided to allow Czech, Polish and Slovak citizens to enter - provided they provide a fresh negative coronavirus test.

"Any measures that do not comply with those fundamental principles of EU law should of course be immediately retracted," Johansson tweeted, referring to the non-discriminatory principle.

"We will be speaking to our respective Hungarian ministerial counterparts shortly to request further information," she added.

"There are clear rules on free movement in the EU and every member state need to follow," commission spokesperson Christian Wigand said.

"It is not possible to discriminate against people on the base of nationality for European citizens, that is why this letter has been prepared," the spokesman said.

"The main concern that there seems to be clear indications for discrimination between EU citizens of different nationality, this is something that may not happen under EU free movement rules," he added.

Hungary only informed the commission about its strict new measures on Monday. The commission has repeatedly pleaded with member states for closer coordination on measures.

Special guest

Last week Hungary said it would close its borders to foreigners from Tuesday to curb a rise in coronavirus cases. It has, however, not introduced other restrictive measures within the country.

Returning Hungarian citizens can avoid a 14-day quarantine only if they provide two negative Covid-19 tests, taken in Hungary itself.

However, after talks with Czech prime minister Andrej Babis on Monday, Hungarian premier Viktor Orban agreed to let Czech visitors who have already booked holidays for September enter the country, the foreign ministry said.

This exemption was then extended to Poland and Slovakia. The four countries make up the loose coalition known as the Visegrad countries.

As of Monday, Hungary had 6,139 coronavirus cases with 615 deaths, Reuters reported. The number of new cases has surged in recent days.

Poland has also said it will from Wednesday (2 September) ban direct flights from 44 countries - including EU members Spain, Malta and Romania, in order to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

The commission had previously issued guidelines on coordination, but wants the council of member states to issue its own recommendations on coordinating measures.

EU ambassadors will discuss on Wednesday better coordination of measures, based on ideas from the German EU presidency.

The EU executive is feeding into the discussion and will publish it proposal on this in the "next days".

The commission will include a common criteria on the epidemiological risks, a common 'colour-coding' of risk areas, and a common approach on measures on returning from travel, like testing and quarantine.

EU warning after Hungary unilaterally shuts borders

The European Commission warned closing borders was not an "efficient" measure to fight the coronavirus pandemic, after Hungary decided unilaterally to shut down its borders to all foreigners. Meanwhile, neighbouring countries are considering different approaches.

Hungary and Poland in spotlight for lockdown moves

The EU commission is double-checking emergency measures in every member state, as fundamental rights have been temporarily abrogated. But Hungary and Poland are problematic, yet no actions are planned.

How the EU thinks summer holidays can be done

The EU commission has proposed measures aimed at resuming travel in the EU "in a responsible and coordinated way" - with different advice on transport, hotels, and cross-border trips.

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