EU President Calls for Borders to Remain Open During Coronavirus Outbreak

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen speaks during a press statement at the Berlaymont building in Brussels on March 10, 2020. (Photo by Kenzo TRIBOUILLARD / AFP) (Photo by KENZO TRIBOUILLARD/AFP via Getty Images)
KENZO TRIBOUILLARD/AFP via Getty Images

The president of the European Commission called for borders to remain open within the EU’s Free Movement travel zone during the COVID-19 outbreak, as countries across the bloc enact border controls.

On Sunday, Ursula von der Leyen urged European Union member states to keep their borders open so that medical supplies will be able to be transported to countries most affected from the coronavirus.

“In this moment of crisis it is of utmost importance to keep our internal market going,” von der Leyen said in a video on social media.

“If we do not take action now, shops will start facing difficulties in refilling their stocks of certain products coming from elsewhere in the Single Market,” she said, adding: “Protecting people’s health should not block goods and essential staff from reaching patients, health systems, factories and shops.”

“Just imagine, as we increase production of medical equipment, factories cannot get the components they need in time, thousands of bus and truck drivers are stranded at internal borders on parking lots, creating more health risk and disrupting our supply chains,” she warned.

The president of the EU commission also called for export controls to be placed on medical devices, preventing their sale outside the EU, while imploring member states to abandon export restrictions on medical supplies within the bloc.

“We need to help each other. By producing more, keeping it in the European Union and sharing with each other we can protect our health workers and patients and contain the spread of the virus,” von der Leyen said.

Last week, the European Union criticised President Donald Trump for restricting travel from the bloc’s visa-free Schengen Zone, saying: “The coronavirus is a global crisis, not limited to any continent and it requires cooperation rather than unilateral action.”

“The European Union disapproves of the fact that the U.S. decision to impose a travel ban was taken unilaterally and without consultation,” the statement added.

Trump said that the travel ban was necessary as the EU failed to enact “precautions and restrict travel from China and other hotspots” of the coronavirus.

Since the travel ban was enacted by the United States, countries across Europe have followed suit, restricting travel and increasing border controls. On Monday, Germany closed its borders with five neighbouring countries.

Other countries in the EU, including Denmark, the Czech Republic, Portugal, Poland, and Austria have also enacted border controls in response to the virus.

An estimated 170 million people are currently under lockdown throughout the European Union, as Spain and France joined Italy in telling citizens to remain in their houses, The Times reports.

The prime minister of France, Édouard Philippe, admitted that the country’s initial response to the coronavirus outbreak was “imperfectly applied”– yet refused to call for the nation’s borders to be closed.

“The best way to slow the epidemic is staying away from other people… We must absolutely limit our movements,” he said.

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