D.he heads of state and government of the European Union agreed at a video conference on Thursday evening on closer cooperation to contain the new virus variants. As EU Council President Charles Michel and Commission President Ursula von der Leyen announced after the four hour long meeting, unnecessary travel should be “restricted” – in the Schengen area and beyond. In addition, test and quarantine obligations are to be tightened by designating “dark red” high-risk zones. Both politicians also spoke out in favor of keeping the borders in the internal market open and ensuring that the movement of goods and necessary travel continue to be possible. “We’re trying to learn lessons from the past here,” said Michel.
Political correspondent for the European Union, NATO and the Benelux countries based in Brussels.
The implementation of the fundamental resolutions is to be discussed in the responsible council bodies as early as next week. Von der Leyen promised specific proposals. With the designation of a new high-risk zone, the commission is taking on a proposal from Chancellor Angela Merkel, who had strongly advocated it. Von der Leyen said that anyone traveling from a dark red to a red zone should be tested beforehand and then put into mandatory quarantine – this corresponds exactly to the German wishes. She was also open to the fact that cross-border commuters are regularly tested. All of this will now be discussed in the committees.
The aim remains herd immunity until summer
The President of the Commission urged that restrictions and openings be closely coordinated between neighboring countries. When a country suddenly opens its shops, it creates an “immediate shopping movement” across the border. Von der Leyen did not mention any names – but this was exactly what happened recently when Luxembourg reopened its shopping centers with a high incidence rate. Merkel seemed to have the same case in mind on Thursday when she said: “If a country with an incidence perhaps twice as high as Germany opens all its stores while they are still closed in our country, then of course you have a problem.”
Von der Leyen and Michel avoided speaking of a travel ban, as the Belgian Prime Minister Alexander de Croo had called for before the video conference on tourist trips. Instead, von der Leyen said that “unnecessary travel” should “be urgently discouraged”. In an internal discussion paper, Germany proposed that the member states should be free to temporarily completely stop travel with third countries. That should also apply to EU citizens.
According to Michels, the heads of state and government “unanimously” supported the Commission’s proposed target of vaccinating 70 percent of their citizens by the summer in order to achieve herd immunity. Regarding the further goal of vaccinating eighty percent of the population over eighty by March, he said: “That will be very difficult.” The states now have to “fight two battles in parallel”, the vaccination campaign and the containment of the virus and its mutants .