If you’re really pressed for time, here is the gist of this Brief: In case you’re thinking of driving home for holidays, think twice and, if you decide to go, brace for impact because, right now, confusion reigns supreme.
The December migration of foreign workers who drive from Western Europe to spend well-earned winter holidays at home has been a tradition for decades. Until this year.
Coronavirus seems to have put paid to this, like it did to so many other things from the ‘old normal’.
With few cheap flights insight, and the expensive ones sold a long time ago, driving remains an affordable, if tortuous, option.
But free travel in the EU’s Schengen zone is not exactly part of the new normal. Or rather, there is a huge grey zone right now, from Amsterdam to Prague or Budapest, where you may, or may not, be stopped for checks along the way.
Authorities are advising people not to travel and that’s a good thing, for the sake of keeping the virus under control and avoiding a third wave that no country want to grapple with.
Letting the economy sink, just before we see the vaccination take effect and the massive recovery funds kick in, would be devastating and demoralising.
What is also slightly demoralising is the absence of unified and clear-cut rules across the bloc, despite efforts from the European Commission.
While the first coronavirus wave has made us re-think the benefits of heath as an exclusive national competence, travel and internal EU borders remain subject to differing interpretations.
At the time of writing, it seems, you can drive freely through Germany, without having to produce a negative COVID test, as long as you don’t plan to spend the night. Hotels will not be allowed to offer accommodation. Conversely, in France, you can stop and spend the night, but you cannot drive between 8pm and 6am, except on Christmas Eve.
Driving further southeast, however, you will be stopped in Austria, which has brought back border checks and is leaving nothing to chance.
Contacted by EURACTIV, the Commission has expressed its disappointment with the situation, veiled in the usual diplomatic language.
“The approaching Christmas and New Year holidays again bring the issue of better coordination of measures across Europe to the forefront. We are in regular contact with all member states and are closely monitoring the situation,” the Commission said in emailed comments.
In the Council recommendation from 13 October, member states have “committed to ensure more coordination and better information”, the Commission said before the parting warning:
“We need to see more progress on implementing this commitment and we call on member states to step up their efforts in the coming weeks.”
Only there are no ‘coming weeks’, Christmas is around the corner.
So there, once again, the Commission has tried, it appealed to common sense and the common good, but it’s still chacun pour soi, it seems.
Every major problem the bloc needs to confront, it appears, only brings back the old ‘More Europe or less?’ dilemma. And it’s precisely this dilemma the EU needs to resolve if it wants to move forward.
This particular opportunity seems to have been wasted. Never mind, there will always be the next one, and the next after that.
In the meantime, you can take some comfort in the thought that Mariah Carey’s ‘All I Want for Christmas’ has climbed to the top of Billboard’s hits 26 years after it was released. So, there is always hope…
***Alexandra Brzozowski and Philip Grüell contributed to this Brief.
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Views are the author’s