European Commission ‘surprised’ by extension of Belgium’s travel ban
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European Commission ‘surprised’ by extension of Belgium’s travel ban

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The European Commission was “rather surprised” to learn that Belgium decided to extend its ban on non-essential travel by two more weeks, until after the Easter holidays, despite the EU’s criticism.

The Commission is currently examining “all options on the table” to follow up on the case, as it maintains that Belgium is violating the principle of proportionality with the ban, reports the Belga press agency.

“We read with surprise in the press on Friday about a new extension of the travel ban, while this was not mentioned in the letter we had received the day before. The letter mentioned 1 April,” a Commission spokesperson said on Monday.

The EU wants to find solutions “to ensure the functioning of the internal market and to guarantee citizens’ rights of free movement” as quickly as possible, they said. “We will swiftly explore all options on the table to follow up on the matter.”

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Two weeks ago, the Commission already called on the Belgian authorities to replace the ban with “more targeted measures” to contain the spread of the virus, such as stricter testing and quarantine rules.

On Friday, Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo announced during a press conference following the Consultative Committee that the ban would be maintained until 18 April, the last day of the Easter holidays.

However, the measure will be evaluated at the next Consultative Committee meeting on 26 March to see whether the ban is “still a necessary element of the whole,” he added.

When explaining the reasoning behind the extension of the measure, De Croo said that he was “convinced” that the ban as it is now is “an important element of the set of measures we have.”

“We sent a letter to the European Commission explaining that the ban is part of the whole,” De Croo said, adding that the government also explained that essential travel is still possible, and “arranged very well.”

The federal government considers the measure to be “proportionate and necessary” pending a strengthened framework to improve the enforceability of testing and quarantine.

Maïthé Chini
The Brussels Times