EU grapples with chaotic COVID-19 border and travel curbs
By Gabriela Baczynska, Michel Rose and Sabine Siebold BERLIN/BRUSSELS (Reuters) - The European Commission told six EU countries to ease travel and border restrictions on Tuesday as unilateral moves to combat the spread of new coronavirus variants had hit the flow of goods and risked shutting parts of the Franco-German border. The EU executive said it had given Belgium, Denmark, Finland, Germany, Hungary and Sweden 10 days to justify the restrictions, which Justice Commissioner Didier Reynders said had 'gone too far'
By Gabriela Baczynska, Michel Rose and Sabine Siebold
BERLIN/BRUSSELS (Reuters) - The European Commission told six EU countries to ease travel and border restrictions on Tuesday as unilateral moves to combat the spread of new coronavirus variants had hit the flow of goods and risked shutting parts of the Franco-German border.
The EU executive said it had given Belgium, Denmark, Finland, Germany, Hungary and Sweden 10 days to justify the restrictions, which Justice Commissioner Didier Reynders said had "gone too far".
Reynders said the 27 EU countries should adopt a coordinated approach to all measures taken in relation to the free movement of people and goods.
A European Commission spokesman said the bloc risked "fragmentation and disruptions to free movement and to supply chains - something we have witnessed again the past weeks".
Berlin, having introduced checks on its frontiers with the Czech Republic and Austria, was in talks with Paris on averting similar measures in France's eastern Moselle region that borders Germany.
The French region has experienced a surge in a more easily transmissable coronavirus variant, as have Austria's Tyrol and the Czech Republic.
With EU national leaders due to discuss health, travel and border challenges on Thursday and Friday, Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz called for "common standards for travel and the transport of goods within the EU to ensure the functioning of the single market".
In a patchwork response to the spread of more contagious coronavirus mutations, nine EU countries have reinstated border controls in what is normally a free travel zone.
The Commission focused on six, including Germany and Belgium, where additional restrictions on movement include a complete ban on non-essential trips in and out of the country.
The Brussels-based executive said quarantine was effective in discouraging leisure travel and transport workers should be exempted from quarantine or testing.
But Michael Roth, Germany's Europe Minister, defended Berlin's actions. "These measures obviously put a massive strain on border regions ... but the protection of our citizens is paramount," he said.
French Europe minister Clement Beaune told Reuters that Berlin and Paris had given themselves 48 hours to coordinate health measures such as increased testing in the Moselle region to avoid shutting their border there.
"Our cross-border workers need to move around for their work and daily lives," Beaune said.
French President Emmanuel Macron says internal borders between EU countries should remain open, and clashed with Germany last year after Berlin closed frontiers during the first wave of the pandemic.
Germany now aims to avoid the strict border measures that were in place in 2020, sources in Berlin said as the Czech Republic asked for EU help to ease German border controls.
Southern countries like Spain hope that vaccination passports could revive their tourism industry this summer by allowing people to travel more freely.
(Reporting by Sabine Siebold in Berlin, Michel Rose in Paris, Gabriela Baczynska, Marine Strauss, Kate Abnett in Brussels; Writing by Gabriela Baczynska; Editing by Giles Elgood)
This story has not been edited by Firstpost staff and is generated by auto-feed.
By Robin Emmott and John Irish | BRUSSELS/PARIS BRUSSELS/PARIS France and Germany will agree to a U.S. plan for NATO to take a bigger role in the fight against Islamic militants at a meeting with President Donald Trump on Thursday, but insist the move is purely symbolic, four senior European diplomats said.The decision to allow the North Atlantic Treaty Organization to join the coalition against Islamic State in Syria and Iraq follows weeks of pressure on the two allies, who are wary of NATO confronting Russia in Syria and of alienating Arab countries who see NATO as pushing a pro-Western agenda."NATO as an institution will join the coalition," said one senior diplomat involved in the discussions. "The question is whether this just a symbolic gesture to the United States
BEIJING Chinese President Xi Jinping on Wednesday called for greater efforts to make the country's navy a world class one, strong in operations on, below and above the surface, as it steps up its ability to project power far from its shores.China's navy has taken an increasingly prominent role in recent months, with a rising star admiral taking command, its first aircraft carrier sailing around self-ruled Taiwan and a new aircraft carrier launched last month.With President Donald Trump promising a US shipbuilding spree and unnerving Beijing with his unpredictable approach on hot button issues including Taiwan and the South and East China Seas, China is pushing to narrow the gap with the U.S. Navy.Inspecting navy headquarters, Xi said the navy should "aim for the top ranks in the world", the Defence Ministry said in a statement about his visit."Building a strong and modern navy is an important mark of a top ranking global military," the ministry paraphrased Xi as saying.