Thursday

25th Feb 2021

Coronavirus

Brussels: Six EU states travel restrictions went 'too far'

  • Non-essential travel from most third countries into the EU is currently strictly limited (Photo: wfbakker2)

The European Commission has written to Germany, Belgium, Hungary, Finland, Denmark and Sweden, urging them to obey to the travel restrictions recommendations of the European Council.

These six member states have introduced, to some extent, a ban on entry or exit from the country on public health grounds during the current wave of the coronavirus pandemic.

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"The commission wants to recall to the European member states that it is a necessity to go back to a coordinated approach on all the measures taken in relation to the free movement of people and goods," EU justice commissioner Didier Reynders said on Tuesday (23 February) in a video posted on social media.

Now the six states have 10 days to justify these decisions.

These restrictions have "gone too far," Reynders said, arguing that "maybe a discouragement" from travelling could be admissible, but "not a ban on travel from one member state to another one."

"We have asked them to take another approach on the borders to not block truck drivers…we want free movement of goods in the internal market," he added.

Despite the recommendations issued by the commission, some member states took unilateral measures at the beginning of the coronavirus outbreak - including export bans on medical supplies or the closure of borders.

Now there are echoes of that confusion, with some members states not following the recommendations agreed earlier this month.

Without a coordinated approach among the 27 EU countries, "we risk fragmentation and disruptions to free movement and to supply chains - something we have witnessed again the past weeks," a commission spokesperson said on Tuesday.

Public health vs single market

Last week, entry restrictions placed at German borders with the Czech Republic and Austria's Tyrol caused congestion and disruption to goods transport by road.

Berlin is limiting the entrance of its own citizens, truck drivers, and cross-border workers as they all have to show a negative coronavirus test.

However, Germany has defended its approach, citing the risk of fast-spreading coronavirus variants in neighbouring countries.

"These measures obviously put a massive strain on border regions, commuters and the transport of goods and the single market, but the protection of our citizens is paramount," German minister for European affairs, Michael Roth, said.

The restrictions, which were imposed for 10 days, have been extended until 3 March, according to the German news agency DPA.

Belgium, for its part, is the only country in the EU that imposed a ban on non-essential travelling in January - amid fears over the spread of virus mutations, such as those first detected in the UK, South Africa or Brazil.

The country's consultive committee is expected to review on Friday (26 February) whether to lift the current curfew and ban on non-essential travel before April, however.

In September, Hungary closed all its border to most foreigners, after seeing a spike of cases after the summer. This rule still stands.

Nordic approach

Meanwhile, Finland has introduced an entry ban on all travellers reaching the country for non-essential purposes, including Europeans, until, at least, Thursday (25 February).

There is also an entry ban in Sweden for those coming from the UK, Denmark and Norway, until 31 March.

The Danish government has imposed control of all Danish borders since the bringing of the pandemic.

Entry into the country is only allowed for those who have "a worthy purpose," but a flight ban exists on anyone arriving who is unable to present a negative test taken within 24 hours before departure.

Additionally, the government wants to launch digital vaccination passports for its citizens in three months.

Non-EU Norway, for its part, has also closed its border to all non-essential travel with a few exceptions - aside from Norwegian residents only "socially-critical personnel".

Non-essential travel from most third countries into the EU is currently strictly limited.

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The European Commission said that bloc's strict regulatory process for the evaluation and approval of vaccines is crucial to persuade citizens to get the jab, calling on member states to fight vaccine hesitancy with information.

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