A heated debate over the controversial measures flared up ahead of the summit. Apparently now Brussels thinks differently about it.
BRUSSELS taz | A new heated debate has broken out in the European Union over border controls and travel restrictions. This is intended to contain the spread of the dangerous British variant of the corona virus, said Chancellor Angela Merkel in Berlin. However, the controversial measure could also be directed against EU countries that do not meet German hygiene standards.
“It is not about introducing nationwide border closings,” said Merkel before a corona crisis summit of the 27 EU countries on Thursday in Berlin. Rather, it is about a uniform approach in the fight against pandemics. She wants “that we all pursue the same goal as possible, to bring the incidences as low as possible,” said Merkel. Border closings would only be the “last resort”.
“That was wrong in 2020 and that is still wrong in 2021,” countered Luxembourg’s Foreign Minister Jean Asselborn. Border closings are not a suitable means of combating the pandemic. Luxembourg reopened stores after they closed in Germany. In Switzerland and the Czech Republic, too, the coronavirus is handled differently than in the largest EU country.
Merkel now sees a need for action here. In France, Belgium and the Netherlands, she does not expect any problems, said the CDU politician. France had previously called for “health checks” at internal borders, Belgium is even considering banning “non-essential” travel. But we still have to talk to the Czech Republic and Switzerland, Merkel added. In a discussion paper from Berlin there was talk of “test centers at the borders”.
Observers suspect a collusion between Brussels and Berlin
The German move contradicts the previous line of the EU. Brussels has repeatedly spoken out strongly against border closings and controls. The closure of the internal borders during the first corona wave in spring 2020 exacerbated the crisis, it said. Recently there was even a debate about possible relaxation of the travel rules for those EU citizens who have already received a corona vaccination.
But in a recommendation presented on Tuesday, the EU Commission surprisingly spoke out in favor of “appropriate travel restrictions, including tests for travelers” for areas with a high corona incidence. In addition, the Brussels authority is now calling for “all non-essential trips” to be discouraged. Shortly afterwards, the federal government in Berlin began to increase the pressure.
Berlin and Brussels had agreed, observers suspect. The background is apparently the decision by the federal and state governments to extend and tighten the lockdown in Germany. Merkel explained this with concern about the new British variant of the corona virus. In order to prevent its spread, other EU countries would also have to go along, she said.
However, border controls or even closings are controversial in Germany. Foreign Minister Heiko Maas (SPD) spoke out against new restrictions. “We have to do everything we can to prevent border controls and 50 kilometers of traffic jams at the borders from occurring again,” he said.
EPP boss warns of economic damage
The group leader of the conservative EPP in the European Parliament, Weber, warned of economic damage from border closings. “Border closings would mean major losses for German industry and trade. In addition, the health system in the border areas would be facing enormous challenges, ”said the CSU politician.