Saturday

6th Jun 2020

EUobserved

When can I see my loved one again?

  • Detail from manuscript containing Pyramus and Thisbe story in Oxford University's Bodleian Library

I found a loophole to meet the woman I love after three months apart, but is love an "essential" reason for travel?

Every EU country suddenly has different border rules after coronavirus swept through Europe.

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And every couple separated by events will have their own stories about 2020.

Ours is complicated, but there are many complicated couples in the EU.

I am an UK and Polish national living in Belgium. My girlfriend is a Danish citizen, living in Denmark.

We are not married, but we have been together for over three years.

When things were normal, we flew back and forth between Brussels and Copenhagen in our 920km-relationship.

We last saw each other three months ago and, as things stood on Thursday (14 May), we do not know when we will see each other again.

I am going to miss her birthday in a few days and I have been reading romances about separated couples.

In Pyramus and Thisbe, a Roman story, the lovers were separated by a garden wall and spoke to each other through a small gap, which seemed like a metaphor for my phone screen.

It was tantalising when I saw, online, that planes were taking off, each day, that could bring us together. And I kept hearing about "flattening curves".

So I phoned round to see if we could do it and I found a way.

As a UK national, I have an inalienable right to leave Belgium and enter Britain. And the UK has no emergency laws in place to stop Danes coming in.

Britain also has no quarantine measures (yet) for EU citizens.

It made me daydream of escaping for a date, just as Pyramus and Thisbe dreamed.

My girlfriend could go home to her native Denmark afterward. And I could return to my adoptive Belgium on my Belgian residency permit.

It was not easy to find that loophole.

I trawled national corona-info websites. I spoke to the Danish foreign ministry, the Belgian foreign and interior ministries, the Polish foreign ministry, the British foreign ministry and its Border Force.

I got a lot of contradictory advice.

In fact, things were so messy, even border guards were struggling to keep up.

"Be sure to check ahead with your port-of-exit in Belgium, because we heard, yesterday, that some British people were not being allowed to leave [due to misunderstandings]," a UK official said.

And we were advised to buy direct flights, because each potential transit country had its own regime.

EU walls

One simple option, for me to go to Denmark, was blocked because Denmark was only letting in Danes or spouses of Danes.

The other obvious choice, for my girlfriend to come to Belgium, was also impossible.

Belgium was more romantic than Denmark, in that it recognised the rights of informal couples.

But you had to "prove" your love.

You had to have a child together, a shared address, or a joint bank account.

"Without something like this, it will be very hard to prove you are in a real relationship," I was told.

My girlfriend would have had to submit documents at a Belgian consulate in Denmark, which might have issued a "laissez-passer".

I have a daughter from a former marriage, but my Danish partner and I did not meet Belgium's criteria.

I also war-gamed a tryst in Poland.

It would not have been easy.

We would have had to spend two weeks in self-quarantine after arrival. The people we lived with (I have relatives in Warsaw) would also have had to quarantine.

There were "steep fines" for violators, a Polish official warned me.

But Poland was off anyway.

The Poles would have let me in, on my Polish passport, but they would not let my girlfriend through, because we were not married and she did not have a Polish residency or work permit.

Romance aside

Old romances aside, I have also been reading about people who died or lost relatives in the pandemic, however.

My dad died in January, though it had nothing to do with coronavirus.

My mum is 78 and she is very poorly. My girlfriend's parents are the same age.

One of my best friends is also a nurse in Manchester Royal Infirmary hospital in the UK.

And I have been clapping for people like him in my window in Brussels most evenings at 8PM.

So, maybe, that is why the words of a Belgian official broke my spell on Wednesday.

"I'm very sorry for you both, Sir. I really am. But we do, still, advise against all but non-essential travel at this time", the official said.

"Please, remember to stay safe," she added.

In some lonely moments since the world turned upside down, it felt "essential" to see my loved one.

"I think, Sir, you should just get married", a Danish official joked.

"Between you and I, love is always a good reason to travel," the Belgian official said.

"Depends how romantic the border guard is," a British official told me, referring to the anecdotes of rejected laissez-passers.

Spoiler alert

But, spoiler alert: For those of you who have not read it, Pyramus and Thisbe does not end well.

They escape, but they both die.

And all joking aside, my girlfriend and I will not be using the UK loophole for a "non-essential" reunion.

Thoughts of my mum and dad, of my girlfriend's parents, and of my friend, the nurse, stuck in my head.

The Belgian official's words stuck.

Everybody far from loved ones due to events will have their own stories.

But the official's words should make sense to us all: "I'm very sorry ... [but] please, remember to stay safe".

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