Brussels writes to Budapest over discriminatory border measures

Hungary's Prime Minister Viktor Orban arrives for the fourth day of the European Council meeting in Brussels, Belgium, 20 July 2020. European Union nations leaders meet face-to-face for a fourth day to discuss plans responding to coronavirus crisis and new long-term EU budget. [EPA-EFE/STEPHANIE LECOCQ]

The European Commission warned Hungary not to discriminate against EU citizens and residents after new border measures were introduced that favour tourists from the four Visegrád countries.

“Today [Justice Commissioner] Didier Reynders and I are sending a letter to the Hungarian Government recalling the importance of the integrity of the Schengen area and of applying border measures in a non-discriminatory way to all EU citizens and residents,” the executive’s home affairs chief, Ylva Johansson wrote on Twitter.

“Any measures that do not comply with those fundamental principles of EU law should of course be immediately retracted,” added Johansson.

Hungary closed its borders to non-citizens and non-residents from Tuesday (1 September), amid a significant increase in new Covid-19 infections.

However, Czech tourists with previously booked September holiday plans in Hungary were allowed to enter the country after Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babiš asked Hungarian counterpart Viktor Orbán to make an exception for his countrymen at the Bled Strategic Forum in Slovenia on Monday, foreign affairs minister Péter Szijjártó revealed on Facebook.

In a later post, Szijjártó added that after in-person consultations and phone calls “it was decided to extend the ‘Czech example’ to the citizens of Slovakia and Poland.

Accordingly, while tests taken abroad are not accepted for Hungarian citizens and residents by the authorities — who will have to enter a two-week quarantine until they can produce two negative tests taken two days apart after their return, — citizens from the four Visegrad countries with prior bookings will be allowed in with a single test no older than 5 days.

Foreign and domestic athletes also form an exception and can furnish two negative tests no older than 5 days to be exempted from quarantine.

Germany wants end to virus border chaos in EU

Germany wants to put an end to the chaotic approaches by EU member states to travel restrictions within Europe as a new wave of coronavirus cases gains momentum across the continent.

The country registered its highest number of cases on 30 August, with 292 new diagnoses in 24 hours. The total number of reported active Covid-19 infections is currently 1,820 as of 1 September, edging closer to the high of about 2000 cases seen at the beginning of May.

“We will be speaking to our respective Hungarian Ministerial counterparts shortly to request further information,” Johansson said.

Prime Minister Orbán first announced the intention to tighten border crossing rules from 1 September on 24 August, but the details were only made public on Saturday (30 August).

Yesterday, a spokesperson told journalists that the Hungarian authorities did not inform the Commission of “any new measures that they intended to take” at their last videolink on Friday, a day before the announcement of border crossing rules.

[Edited by Benjamin Fox]

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