At the initiative of the Commission, Member States are temporarily restricting entry to the European Union. This sends a message: “Stay where you are! For the moment, Europe is not the place to go.” Right now Europe is the epicentre of a world-wide epidemic.
But closing borders won’t stop the virus. It’s already present in all Member States. That’s why we are working together in Europe to limit contagion and to protect capacity and to keep our economy going. We set up a team of experts at the EU level to coordinate our medical response. We are funding the development of a vaccine. We launched an unprecedented economic package to support our economy, and a temporary framework for State Aid rules, enabling Member States to support businesses and jobs. Based on advice from the European Centre for Disease control, recommendations have been issued on community measures for social distancing and testing.
Member States are now closing internal borders to protect people and health care capacity. Closing borders as a first reaction is understandable; and limiting travel is a way of limiting social interaction. But as the virus is already present everywhere, a total closedown is not enough to protect us. In any case these measures should not hamper the economy or stop people reaching their loved ones. Goods, food and medicine need to reach all corners of Europe. People need to work across borders. The internal market has delivered for us in good times. Its functioning is essential in tough times.
That’s why last Monday, we presented border management guidelines. The Member States endorsed them immediately. We are establishing green lanes –priority corridors – for truck drivers, enabling goods to pass using special stickers. And we agreed to make it possible for people to swiftly return home across borders.
Member States are working closely together to put these guidelines into practice. Last week we saw long traffic jams at the borders, blocking the supply of goods, food and medical supplies. But in the last days the Commission has coordinated efforts by Member States to work with their neighbours to solve this, and we are seeing big improvements. Some issues remain, and we are working hard to solve these too.
We don’t know how long this will go on for. In Europe things are still getting worse, with more victims of the disease and a massive impact on economy, businesses and employment.
We will all be put to the test. As individuals – will we hoard for ourselves or will we help each other? Can we bear the burden of isolation? And as societies. Will we mobilise our economies, healthcare systems, welfare states to support our people? And as a Union. Can we work together to meet the challenge?
This is no time for selfishness, individual or national. If we act alone, we won’t only fail ourselves. We fail our neighbours and our society. Hoarders fill their trolleys, leaving empty shelves for the people working in the health care sector, for law enforcement staff returning from 48 hour shifts. Even though our warehouses are full. By closing borders, we risk that ventilators or masks don’t arrive in the hospitals because they are stuck at a border check.
We can’t allow a natural disaster to turn into a man-made disaster.
Nationalism won’t cure the virus. Cooperation is the antidote.
We must unite, as people, as families, as nations and as a Union. And good things are happening. Over the last two weeks we have seen solidarity in action. We see a lot of people volunteering to go shopping, to help the elderly and sick avoid social interaction. We’re staying away from our parents and grandparents to keep them safe. We’re applauding our healthcare professionals, hospital cleaners, supermarket cashiers, bus and truck drivers, our teachers, our and emergency services, who are in the front lines of this struggle. They protect us all and they deserve our support. European Union and Member States are presenting massive financial packages to support people and businesses in need.
Things will get worse, before they get better. But they will get better. And the better we work together, the less we will suffer. We will come out of this stronger.
Whatever we do, we must hold on to our values. The current limits on our fundamental freedoms, like the freedom of movement both within and between Member States, must not become the new normal. Instead, let solidarity and unity remain the norm for our common European project.