EU leaders to discuss border closures, vaccine passports at EU summit

Brussels, Jan 21 (efe-epa).- The heads of state and government of the European Union were meeting via video conference on Thursday to discuss potential internal EU border closures and the introduction of vaccine certificates for travelers amid a widespread spike in coronavirus infections.

Ahead of the start of the summit, Christian Wigand, spokesperson for the European Commission, said it is looking at whether a recent increase of Covid-19 infections in EU member states as a result of new, more contagious variants of the virus justify restrictions on freedom of movement, one of the fundamental principles of the Schengen Area.

Several EU countries have said they are in favor of closing their borders to non-essential travel due to the recent accelerated spread of Covid-19.

No formal conclusions will be adopted at the summit, which will be an exchange of views on how to manage the pandemic amid an uptick of infections in the EU.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Thursday did not rule out the possibility of introducing some form of border checks, although she is against a total closure like the one in March and April, which caused long queues of cargo trucks and severe disruption to essential supply chains.

“That must not happen again,” she said.

On Wednesday, Merkel spoke with the prime ministers of Belgium, Alexander de Croo, and Luxembourg, Xavier Bettel, to address the issue.

Luxembourg is in favor of keeping the borders open, but Belgium is also considering banning non-essential travel.

Belgian Foreign Minister Sophie Wilmes said Monday that her country wants European leaders to agree on a common position at the summit.

Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte, who is also concerned about variants of the virus circulating in his country, on Wednesday announced a ban on flights from the United Kingdom, South America and South Africa.

According to Dutch diplomatic sources, the Netherlands “is normally opposed to doing anything against freedom of movement in the European Union (EU),” because it is “an essential pillar,” “but if this British variant is so contagious, we might have to take action.”

The president of the EC, Ursula Von der Leyen, on Wednesday rejected a total closure of the borders, because “it would not make sense”.

The closure in the spring after the first wave of the pandemic was the first time widespread freedom of movement had been suspended in the Schengen area. EFE-EPA


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