Brussels (AP) – In the fight against the corona pandemic, the 27 EU countries are trying to speed up vaccination and contain the feared new virus variants. According to an EU representative, the Heads of State or Government are investigating possible requirements for unnecessary travel during a video summit.
Borders must remain as open as possible, he said. Chancellor Angela Merkel had not ruled out border controls beforehand to keep highly contagious forms of viruses away.
Citizens and businesses may therefore encounter new obstacles when traveling and transporting in Europe. Some EU holiday countries such as Greece, Spain or Portugal hoped to create the conditions for more freedom of movement in the summer: they advertised a European corona vaccination pass that could make traveling easier. However, according to the EU representative, it became clear on the video top that the vaccination pass should initially only be a medical document and not a travel document.
In fact, there is free movement in the Schengen area, which includes 26 European countries, without stationary border controls. However, at the start of the pandemic, a number of countries had closed borders or initiated controls, in some cases uncoordinated. Traffic was stuck for tens of kilometers on the German border with Poland. Perishable goods did not reach their destination and border residents had problems getting to work.
The European Commission absolutely wants to prevent a repetition. But some countries are already checking their borders, including Hungary, Austria and Denmark. And now the coronavirus mutants discovered in Britain and South Africa are sparking new fears because they may be more contagious than previous variants.
During their video conference, EU heads of state or government exchanged ideas for the first time. The goal is clear: detect the mutated viruses more precisely and slow their spread as much as possible. Merkel said she expected “special precautions” when entering from the UK and South Africa. Germany has already introduced mandatory tests for travelers from these countries.
Luxembourg Foreign Minister Jean Asselborn has strongly rejected border controls or closures within the EU. For example, if commuters could no longer come to Luxembourg, the health system there would collapse, he warned on Deutschlandfunk.
However, it is precisely these commuters in border regions that are decisive from Merkel’s point of view. Germany will help ensure that commuters can be tested, the CDU politician said at a press conference in Berlin. We are also in talks with the countries of origin. The free movement of goods is not a problem. And it is not about national border controls. “But I will tell you honestly: if a country with an incidence that is 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.”
The economy is against national solo efforts and fears that goods will become stuck at borders again – including medicines or protected goods, as FDI president Siegfried Russwurm said. Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo does not want new obstacles for trucks or for cross-border commuters. However, he brought in to ban tourists and other unnecessary travel.
In many EU countries, there is still rumble when it comes to vaccination. At the video summit, there were many questions about transparency and delivery schedules for the different vaccines, the EU representative reported. Because the companies Biontech and Pfizer can deliver less vaccine than planned in the short term, some vaccination agreements have been canceled in Germany.
Nevertheless, the European Commission is calling on the 27 states to set ambitious goals. By the summer, 70 percent of adults in the EU would have been vaccinated against the virus, and by March 80 percent of the over-80s and nurses and health workers. Merkel was careful. The Chancellor only confirmed that everyone in Germany wanted a vaccination offer by the end of the summer – that is, by September 21.