EU questions German COVID border closures | News | DW | 23.02.2021
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EU questions German COVID border closures

The European Commission has raised doubts about the proportionality of Germany's border checks to counter the risk of the spread of coronavirus variants.

German border police check vehicles arriving from Austria's Tyrol province, after a new law to combat COVID-19 comes into effect, requiring those leaving the region to show a negative test result in response to the EU's biggest outbreak of the so-called South African coronavirus variant, in Kiefersfelden, Germany, February 12, 2021.

The restrictions led to long tailbacks in freezing weather, particularly for trucks, at some crossings

Brussels has complained that the border control measures implemented by Germany in February to combat the spread of the coronavirus were disproportionate and unjustified.   

Germany introduced checks at its borders to the Austrian state of Tyrol, the Czech Republic and Slovakia on February 14. The restrictions were initially imposed for a 10-day period.

Berlin justified the measure by citing the risks of coronavirus variants in neighboring countries.

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Brussels disagrees with Berlin

The European Commission wrote that it believed that "less restrictive measures" could have achieved the goal of protecting public health.

"We believe that the objective justifiably pursued by Germany — the protection of public health during a pandemic — could be attained by less restrictive measures," the European Union's executive body wrote to Germany's ambassador to the bloc, Michael Clauss.

The letter, dated Monday and seen by dpa news agency, gives Germany 10 days to respond.

It also criticized that the German entry rules made no exceptions for cross-border families or for members of foreign governments or the European Parliament.

Police turn back thousands at border

The Czech Republic, Slovakia and Austria's Tyrol region were added to Germany's list of "areas of variant of concern" on February 14.

The step banned the vast majority of people from entering Germany at those crossings.

Germany is currently limiting entry from these places to citizens and residents, truck drivers, health workers and a few others, including cross-border commuters working in "systemically relevant sectors.'' All have to show a negative coronavirus test.

German border police have turned back thousands of people since the checks started.

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Neighbors criticize Germany

The decision prompted criticism from Germany's neighbors, not least because of a lack of advanced warning.

On Tuesday, Germany's minister for Europe, Michael Roth, rejected criticism of Berlin's decision. He said the German government's actions are "in keeping with Schengen," the rules of Europe's passport-free travel zone.

A government spokesman also said Berlin had acted in line with EU law, and that Germany intends to fully reopen the borders as soon as possible.

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EC pushes members to discuss border issues

The European Commission has previously sent similar letters to Belgium, Hungary, Denmark, Sweden and Finland, whose border restrictions have been met with disapproval in Brussels.

At the Commission's request, the member states' ministers for European affairs are holding a conference on Tuesday to discuss border checks and other measures to control the spread of the coronavirus.

sri/msh (AP, dpa)