Chancellor Angela Merkel (CDU) has set herself an ambitious goal for discussions among the heads of state and government of the EU. At the first EU video summit in the new year, the Chancellor is relying on the most uniform possible approach of the member states in fighting pandemics. This seems necessary to her, especially given the more contagious mutations of the coronavirus. However, if the number of infections in one or another neighboring country of Germany is particularly high, area-wide border controls are not ruled out from Merkel’s point of view.
Before the EU video summit, Merkel reaffirmed her position in Berlin for a coordinated procedure within the EU. Area-wide border closings could only be an “ultima ratio”, she said. However, it could not be acceptable that “a country with an incidence that is perhaps twice as high as Germany opens all shops and we still have them closed”.
Merkel’s statements are likely to target the next phase of the pandemic. If the number of infections across the EU should go down soon, discussions about possible easing should quickly start again not only in Germany but also among the neighbors. Helge Braun therefore also called for joint action by the EU. If a neighboring country does not do enough to prevent the mutations from spreading, “even stricter entry rules at our internal borders cannot be avoided,” Braun said on ARD.
Meanwhile, the Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo spoke out in favor of an EU-wide tightening. He proposed that tourist and other unnecessary travel be banned in the current situation.
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As Merkel explained, the critical gaze from Germany is primarily directed towards the Czech Republic and the non-EU country Switzerland. She is already in talks with the government in Prague, and this is also planned in the case of Switzerland, the Chancellor said.
Spahn: Tests for commuters don’t have to take place at the border
Meanwhile, Health Minister Jens Spahn (CDU) spoke in an interview with the SWR that the infection rate in many border regions is often high on both sides and would repeatedly “rock” each other up. Regular corona tests among cross-border commuters, which would prevent this from happening, do not have to take place “per se at the border”, said Spahn. The tests are also possible alternately on both sides of the border. There are already talks with the governments in the Czech Republic and Poland, the minister said.
Spahn also addressed a point that resolute opponents of continuous border controls, such as Luxembourg’s Foreign Minister Jean Asselborn, repeatedly point out: the economic importance of cross-border commuters – especially for the health sector. If commuters from Germany could no longer come to the Grand Duchy on a daily basis, “then our health system will collapse in Luxembourg,” warned Asselborn on Deutschlandfunk.
Von der Leyen: Border closings make no sense
In the debate on the possible reintroduction of continuous border controls, as the EU had already experienced in the first lockdown last spring, Luxembourg’s foreign minister also referred to the negative stance of the EU Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen. A blanket border closure would “make no sense,” said von der Leyen in front of the EU Parliament.
However, there was no complete lockdown at the borders last spring at the height of the first corona wave. Cross-border freight traffic was still going on, and commuters were also able to get to their jobs.
Skepticism about EU vaccination certificate
Meanwhile, Asselborn was skeptical about a move from EU countries such as Greece, Spain, Portugal and Malta, which should also be discussed at the video conference on Thursday evening: The member states in the south of the Community, in which tourism plays a special role, campaign for the introduction of an EU-wide vaccination certificate. If politicians like the Athens Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis have their way, then such a certificate should soon facilitate cross-border travel in the community. Asselborn, on the other hand, stressed that this amounts to discrimination against those who have not yet received a vaccination.
Approval for AstraZeneca at the end of next week?
Whether and when a vaccination certificate will be introduced also depends on the speed at which the vaccines will be administered in the EU over the next few weeks and months. As became clear at the video summit, there is resentment among the EU states that there was a lack of transparency on the part of the manufacturer Biontech / Pfizer with the temporary cutback in vaccine deliveries.
AstraZeneca vaccine is expected to be approved in the Community by the end of next week. The EU Commission has ordered a total of 300 million doses of the vaccine from the British-Swedish company. The vaccine has the advantage that it does not have to be cooled as much as some mRNA vaccines. Last summer, AstraZeneca was the first company with which the EU Commission came to a conclusion in the negotiations on vaccine deliveries.
The vaccines from the manufacturers Johnson & Johnson and Curevac are also not far from approval. The EU Commission has therefore set a clear target for the entire EU: by the end of March, at least 80 percent of people over 80 and 80 percent of employees in the health care system should be vaccinated.