Germany: Border closure 'highly problematic' says expert
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The European Commission has threatened legal action against the European capitals for closing their borders to curb the spread of coronavirus. Warning letters were sent to Germany, Finland, Belgium, Sweden, Denmark and Hungary ordering them to rethink the measures on their frontiers. The Commission warned the capitals were “applying stricter measures than what is provided for” in a recent EU free-travel recommendation.
Berlin has faced the most criticism after it emerged the country’s border closures hindered internal travel within Austria.
Chancellor Angela Merkel’s federal government closed the borders with Tyrol, a western Austrian state, amid fears of mutant coronavirus strains in the area.
Many Austrian commuters in the region cross into Bavaria as part of a more direct route to cut journey times.
Berlin has imposed similar border closures with the Czech Republic and Slovakia.
In its warning to Germany, the Commission said: “We believe Germany’s understandable goal – the protection of public health in a pandemic – could be achieved through less restrictive measures.”
Eurocrats insisted on a response from Berlin within ten days before further action is taken, which could include a legal challenge.
But it is not expected Germany will be challenged at the European Court of Justice because the measures are designed to curb coronavirus.
The Commission had expressed a number of concerns with Germany’s current travel ban, which eurocrats claim stops families living across borders from meeting.
It was also noted a demand for lorry drivers to submit a negative coronavirus test, from within the last 48 hours, was too strict.
The EU generally discourages any rules that prevents the free movement of goods around the bloc.
German interior minister Horst Seehofer has vowed to contest the Brussels complaint and extend the measures further.
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Belgium has imposed similar measures, preventing any international travel without a valid reason to do so.
For the travel ban, its federal government invokes the Schengen Borders Code, which allows states to introduce controls when there is a “serious threat to public order or internal security”.
A Commission spokesman said: “In the letters, we underline the need for free movement restrictions to be non-discriminatory and proportionate.
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“We urge member states to align their provisions more closely with the Council recommendations that we have jointly agreed and review rules on free movement.”
He added: “The member states have 10 days to reply to the Commission and the Commission is closely monitoring the steps taken by member states on a continuous basis.”
Additional reporting by Monika Pallenberg
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