EU countries’ COVID-19 curbs must not hurt trade: official

FILE PHOTO: European Union flags flutter outside the European Commission headquarters, where Brexit talks are taking place, in Brussels, Belgium, December 24, 2020. REUTERS/Yves Herman

BRUSSELS (Reuters) – European Union countries must ensure travel and border restrictions imposed to prevent the spread of new coronavirus variants do not hurt trade in goods and services in the bloc’s single market, a senior official said on Wednesday.

Belgium – which has a blanket ban on all non-essential travel in and out of its territory – and Germany came under particular pressure over their latest restrictions on movement, which the EU executive said have gone too far.

Austria and the Czech Republic complained about tighter controls on their normally-open borders with Germany, which Berlin justified with the need to contain outbreaks of more contagious strains of the coronavirus.

“The challenge here is to keep balance between restrictions on non-essential travel and the functioning of single market,” the senior EU official said ahead of talks between the 27 EU leaders on Thursday about COVID, travel and borders.

The 27 will agree to keep in place curbs on leisure travel, according to their draft joint statement seen by Reuters, as France, Germany, Belgium and Luxembourg were in talks to keep their frontiers open for essential trips and border workers.

Southern EU states are also pushing to introduce vaccination passports to unlock this summer’s tourism season but face scepticism from France and Germany, who are worried that opening travel for those innoculated would discriminate against the others.

Reporting by Gabriela Baczynska, Editing by William Maclean