The Brief, powered by Goldman Sachs – Christmas conundrum

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV Media network.

The Brief is EURACTIV's evening newsletter. [EPA/LAURENT GILLIERON]

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.

A message from Goldman Sachs: Insights and analysis on net-zero carbon. Goldman Sachs Research explores the latest on the economics of net carbon zero. Improved low-cost de-carbonization technologies, the emergence of clean hydrogen technologies, and the financial innovations driving down costs.

The Roundup

Online platform giants will be forced to abide by a broad range of obligations as part of ambitious new plans laid out by the European Commission in its Digital Markets Act (DMA) and Digital Services Act (DSA).

The EU has been identified as a “prime target” by malicious global cyber attackers and the bloc needs to reinforce its capabilities to defend itself amid this new threat landscape, the European Commission has said.

Eligibility rules imposed by the governing body of professional ice skating are not in keeping with the EU’s competition codex because they unfairly penalise competitors, the EU’s top court ruled.

EU agricultural ministers have given the green light to an EU-wide animal welfare labelling system, although plans for front of pack nutrition and origin labelling have been shelved for the moment.

Equity projects remain an under-explored form of EU financing to jump-start innovation in developing capital markets, but Fil Rouge Capital, a Croatian project, shows they can be a fruitful avenue to stimulate the domestic business ecosystem while raising the country’s profile internationally.

The campaign for Western Saharan independence has suffered another diplomatic blow after the head of the European Parliament’s group on Western Sahara resigned, accusing the pro-independence Frente Polisario of committing ‘a serious strategic error’ by ending a 30-year ceasefire with Morocco.

Feed additives hold enormous potential for reducing the environmental impact of the farming sector, but are not getting the attention they deserve according to farming sector and feed industry stakeholders, who are calling for more focus on the role of feed additives in contributing to sustainability goals.

Aviation technology is due to reach new heights over the course of the next decade, as efficiency improvements, advancements in fuel development and new forms of propulsion take to the skies. It could usher in a new age of flight.

As the approval of a COVID-19 vaccine edges closer in the EU, stakeholders are urging member states to treat the food and drink workforce as a top priority in vaccination plans.

Look out for…

  • European Parliament plenary session 
  • Environment Council
  • Serbia Stabilisation and Association Council

Views are the author’s

Subscribe to our newsletters