Czechs rush to Germany before border closes

Czechs hurried to cross the German border on Saturday a day before it closes as part of Berlin's effort to stop the spread of highly infectious coronavirus strains.

Czechs rush to Germany before border closes
A car with a German license plate crosses the border from the Czech Republic. Photo: Michal Cizek / AFP
Germany said on Thursday it would ban travel from the Czech Republic as well as from Austria's Tyrol region over a surge in the virus variants.
Germany classed the Czech Republic and Austria's Tyrol as hotspots and opted to implement border controls in its southern states of Bavaria and Saxony as of Sunday.
In normal times, there is free passage between fellow member states of the European Union like the Czech Republic and Germany.
“I must cross the border before midnight,” professional driver Ludvik Boucek told AFP on Saturday afternoon as he washed his truck at a service area at the western Czech crossing of Rozvadov.
“I'm glad the company dispatcher told me about the closure. I hadn't heard anything about it,” said Boucek, who is headed for England.
Only essential workers — like doctors or employees in elderly care homes — and returning Germans will be allowed to cross the border to Germany as of Sunday.
'Indispensability' certificates
“Czech cross-border workers in Germany will need a certificate of 'indispensability' and a negative test every day,” the Czech foreign ministry said in a tweet Saturday. “Border controls will be in place for at least 10 days.”
Other travellers as well as cross-border students will have to go into two-week quarantine.
In late January, Berlin already restricted travel from countries or places hardest hit by new highly contagious coronavirus variants.
An EU member of 10.7 million people, the Czech Republic has registered some of the world's highest coronavirus infection rates on a per capita basis in recent months.
It has seen over a million confirmed cases and more than 18,000 deaths since the March outbreak.
The populist government of billionaire Prime Minister Andrej Babis  failed in its attempt to extend a state of emergency past February 14 after it was voted down in parliament on Thursday.
The government has quarantined three worst-hit regions, deploying almost 600 police officers to carry out random checks on their borders.
Waiting to cross over into Bavaria at the snow-covered Czech Rozvadov crossing, van driver Milan Vaculka said he was worried about how and when he and his colleague might be able to return home.
“We have no idea what things will be like when we return. Nobody told us that,” he told AFP.

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Court turns down AfD-led challenge to Germany’s spending in pandemic

The German Constitutional Court rejected challenges Tuesday to Berlin's participation in the European Union's coronavirus recovery fund, but expressed some reservations about the massive package.

Court turns down AfD-led challenge to Germany's spending in pandemic

Germany last year ratified the €750-billion ($790-billion) fund, which offers loans and grants to EU countries hit hardest by the pandemic.

The court in Karlsruhe ruled on two challenges, one submitted by a former founder of the far-right AfD party, and the other by a businessman.

They argued the fund could ultimately lead to Germany, Europe’s biggest economy, having to take on the debts of other EU member states on a permanent basis.

But the Constitutional Court judges ruled the EU measure does not violate Germany’s Basic Law, which forbids the government from sharing other countries’ debts.

READ ALSO: Germany plans return to debt-limit rules in 2023

The judgement noted the government had stressed that the plan was “intended to be a one-time instrument in reaction to an unprecedented crisis”.

It also noted that the German parliament retains “sufficient influence in the decision-making process as to how the funds provided will be used”.

The judges, who ruled six to one against the challenges, did however express some reservations.

They questioned whether paying out such a large amount over the planned period – until 2026 – could really be considered “an exceptional measure” to fight the pandemic.

At least 37 percent of the funds are aimed at achieving climate targets, the judges said, noting it was hard to see a link between combating global warming and the pandemic.

READ ALSO: Germany to fast-track disputed €200 billion energy fund

They also warned against any permanent mechanism that could lead to EU members taking on joint liability over the long term.

Berenberg Bank economist Holger Schmieding said the ruling had “raised serious doubts whether the joint issuance to finance the fund is in line with” EU treaties.

“The German court — once again — emphasised German limits for EU fiscal integration,” he said.

The court had already thrown out a legal challenge, in April 2021, that had initially stopped Berlin from ratifying the financial package.

Along with French President Emmanuel Macron, then chancellor Angela Merkel sketched out the fund in 2020, which eventually was agreed by the EU’s 27 members in December.

The first funds were disbursed in summer 2021, with the most given to Italy and Spain, both hit hard by the pandemic.