TAlthough a ban on freight transport from the UK was imposed this weekend, France and some other European Union countries hope to be able to ease the restriction as of Wednesday, for truck drivers, returning citizens and other travelers. that can show that they recently tested negative for the coronavirus. .
Today, EU emergency talks will be held in Brussels on how to organize and monitor a system of controls at airports, Channel ports and the Eurotunnel. And top EU leaders held a series of crisis talks by phone and video conference last night. French President Emmanuel Macron spoke privately with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, and the couple also spoke with the President of the European Council, Charles Michel, and the President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen.
Macron’s initial efforts in particular to force a common EU-wide response to the “new variant of Covid” crisis failed. As a result, most EU countries made individual decisions, ranging from 24-hour bans on travel from the UK (Belgium) to 11-day bans until the end of the year (Netherlands). Other countries, like Greece and Spain, have tightened their quarantine and testing requirements.
Today’s talks are an attempt to put some order in place and agree on some common principles on testing truck drivers and other travelers, in order to allow freight transport through the Canal to resume. There may also be common agreed rules about quarantine periods.
France’s Europe Minister Clément Beaune said his country wanted to use its 48-hour travel ban from the UK to achieve two things. “It is a period of emergency and precaution,” he said. “These 48 hours will allow us to clarify the scientific facts and coordinate better at the European level.” The goal, he said, was “to find solutions” that would allow truckers and others to cross the English Channel, which almost certainly involved negative test certificates.
France announced its travel ban after a two-hour meeting of the defense council, remotely chaired by Macron, which is still recovering from the virus.
The move has sparked accusations from UK Brexiters, including Nigel Farage, that he intended to “intimidate” Britain into agreeing to a trade deal with the EU. These claims are unfounded. French officials this morning dismissed them as “an unfortunate fantasy.”
Officials noted that, with more than 300,000 French residents in the UK, many hoping to return home for the Christmas holidays, the travel ban “was also very painful for France.” With other EU countries going ahead with bans, starting with the Netherlands on Sunday morning, France was forced to do something.
Although we are used to crises over Britain’s trade with the EU, the latter is simply based on the natural concerns our European neighbors have about the mutant strain of Covid-19 that is taking root in their own countries. As a senior French source put it: “We and other EU countries had little choice because of the alarmist tone of the UK government’s own communications on the matter. If London ordered its own citizens not to leave the south-east, how could we allow travel across the English Channel to continue normally?
French sources say they hope it will be possible to start allowing trips to truck drivers and others who have recent negative virus tests when the initial 48-hour ban ends at the end of Tuesday (11pm GMT).
Officials from other EU countries made similar comments. They noted that the World Health Organization had asked European governments to take into account the “disturbing” findings about the new variant of the virus announced by the United Kingdom.
So far the response has seemed chaotic and there has been a clear lack of coordination, which European leaders are now trying to address. For four years, we have seen almost all EU-related events through the lens of Brexit. Doing it this time would be wrong. As a Dutch source told me: “These restrictions are not intended to punish or isolate Britain. They are to protect our own citizens. If the positions were reversed, the UK would be doing the exact same thing. “
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