Faced with continuing surges in Covid-19 infections, including new variants whose dangers are not yet fully understood, European leaders are debating plans to further restrict travel, possibly for months. The proposals from different countries involve both third countries and travel within the EU.
While there has been general agreement among EU countries on restricting outside travel to 'essential,' proposals to restrict travel within the EU have stirred up more controversy, especially in view of the countries' connected economies, food supplies and thousands of cross-border workers who live in one country and work in another.
In response to some of the proposals, EU Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen has proposed adding new 'dark red zones' to the EU's color-coded virus maps, and imposing stronger restrictions in those areas. While the proposal may be accepted, it does not satisfy demands by some states for stronger action.
At Thursday's meeting of the European Commission, Belgium and Germany, among others, offered proposals for restrictions. Belgium's, which it intends to impose internally in any case, calls for a temporary halt to all non-essential travel; that proposal is aimed in part at upcoming February spring breaks.
Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo made his point: “I want to be very clear about what we advocating: we are not asking to close borders. Trade must be able to take place, border workers who work in another country must be able to do so, and we must ensure that the Schengen area continues to function.
"In recent months, we have seen that we have asked people very politely not to travel, and we have asked them urgently not to travel, but 160,000 people still left on holiday around Christmas. We must put a stop to tourist and leisure travel; when you travel, you often bring the virus with you in your suitcase, and we need to be able to at least temporarily shut that down.”
Germany proposed temporary but complete bans on entry into the EU, which would include citizens returning home and the limited numbers of people exempt from the ban based on their occupations. On Thursday night, after the Commission meeting, France announced that except for truckers and cross-border workers, no one will be allowed to enter France without a current negative Covid-19 test, perhaps only the first of a wave of intra-Europe restrictions.