Monday, 22 March 2021: One year of Corona cooperation / North Rhine-Westphalia’s Minister of European and International Affairs, Dr. Stephan Holthoff-Pförtner: With the Cross-Border Taskforce Corona, North Rhine-Westphalia, the Netherlands and Belgium are providing a powerful European response to the pandemic.
“Together, we are sending a strong signal of European cooperation” – this is the interim assessment that Minister for Europe, Stephan Holthoff-Pförtner, the Ambassador of the Kingdom of Belgium, Geert Muylle, and the Dutch State Secretary of the Interior Raymond Knops who drew in the Cross-Border Taskforce Corona through a digital conference held on 22 March 2021.
The occasion was the one-year anniversary of the cross-border body.
Geert Muylle, Ambassador of the Kingdom of Belgium to Germany: “For more than a year, we have been living with a major challenge that we can only overcome through cooperation and solidarity, all the more so in the border regions. That is why we are pleased that this task force, in which we exchange information at least weekly, is working so well. It has helped a lot since last year to solve a whole range of problems, in fact often preventing them, and has also helped to avoid the border becoming a obstacle.”
“Two elements have proved crucial. The first is a good understanding of the situation with the neighbours and the measures taken there, because measures, although not identical, can still have a similar effect. The second is that good – coordinated – planning is crucial. Right now, as we face a third wave, the absolute priority is to put in place a testing capacity that allows people to be tested quickly and efficiently before they cross borders.”
Examples of practical successes of the taskforce:
- Currently, partners are sharing vaccination strategies to prevent citizens from falling through the cracks of national vaccination strategies due to their cross-border work or living situations. The task force practitioners are certain: according to current knowledge, this will not happen. At best, there will be people with vaccination offers from two countries.
- In order to allow people in the border area to commute without testing or quarantine obligations, pragmatic rules have been found. In some cases, this depends on the length of stay in the risk area (maximum 48 hours under Belgian law, maximum 24 hours under North Rhine-Westphalian law) or on the reason for the journey (exceptions specifically for border commuters, pupils and students in North Rhine-Westphalia, Belgium and the Netherlands). If entry rules for a country change, the task force discusses to what extent exceptions are possible
- For example, there are almost 50,000 border commuters between North Rhine-Westphalia and the Netherlands – many work in system-critical professions.Hygiene and lockdown rules have been largely harmonised. The mask requirement, which initially did not apply in the Netherlands, is now equally mandatory in all three countries.
- Hospitals in North Rhine-Westphalia that had free capacity have so far admitted a total of 31 intensive care patients from Belgium and 64 covid patients from the Netherlands.
- The lockdown measures posed concrete problems for commuters. People living in Germany and working in the Netherlands were threatened with a tax reassessment at their expense (“183-day rule”) when they changed from their “regular” place of work to a home office. Thanks to the task force, the problem was solved by agreements between the ministries of finance: Home office will be valued like work at the usual place of work in the neighbouring country.
- When hotels in North Rhine-Westphalia had to close in spring 2020, this caused problems for Dutch train drivers: they could not comply with the prescribed rest periods. The task force stepped in and through their mediation, hotels were organised that could provide overnight accommodation.
- At the end of the holiday season last spring (Easter holidays in Belgium and North Rhine-Westphalia, May holidays in the Netherlands), many people returned from their holidays in transit via a neighbouring country (Dutch via Düsseldorf airport, Germans via Amsterdam-Schiphol, for example). By providing information to each other in good time, transit traffic was able to move quickly – unlike at many other borders in Europe.
- In all of this, communication was also coordinated. In the winter, when the situation had dramatically deteriorated, NRW Premier Armin Laschet appealed to citizens in a joint appeal with his Dutch colleague Mark Rutte and Belgium’s Prime Minister Alexander De Croo to stay at home and refrain from unnecessary journeys to neighbouring countries.
For further information:
Embassy of the Kingdom of Belgium in the Federal Republic of Germany (HE Ambassador Geert Muylle): https://germany.diplomatie.belgium.be/nlAttachments area
Picture by Land NRW.