The EU demanded that Hungary ‘immediately retract’ its new border rules today after foreigners were shut out to tackle a resurgence in coronavirus cases.
Hungary closed its borders last night except for Hungarians returning from abroad, who will have to quarantine unless they can produce two negative tests, and visitors from Poland, the Czech Republic and Slovakia.
Brussels said the new rules amounted to discrimination and ‘do not comply with the fundamental principles of EU law’ after motorists queued at the Austrian border last night.
The EU has long been at loggerheads with Viktor Orban’s government over threats to the rule of law and the independence of the judiciary in Hungary.
Most of Europe’s borders re-opened in May and June, but many countries have seen spikes in cases in recent weeks which some have blamed on foreign travel.
Cars queue to enter Hungary at a border crossing near Nickelsdorf, Austria, in the early hours of this morning as the Hungarian government closed its borders to foreigners
People stand next to their cars as they wait to cross the border from Austria into Hungary on Tuesday morning
The EU today urged countries to co-ordinate border closures as the patchwork of checks across Europe becomes ever harder for its 460million citizens to understand.
‘It is very clear, common European challenges require European coordination,’ commission spokesman Christian Wigand said.
He added: ‘There can be no discrimination between EU citizens when it comes to travel restrictions. There are clear rules on free movement in the European Union and every member state needs to follow them.’
Commission member Didier Reynders said he would raise the issue of ‘discriminatory’ border measures with the government in Budapest.
‘Any measures that do not comply with those fundamental principles of EU law should of course be immediately retracted,’ he said.
Hungary has piled up 806 new infections in the last week, an alarming increase from 239 a week earlier and 220 the week before that.
Nationalist leader Orban is facing one of the biggest challenges of his 10-year rule after the economy plunged by an annual 13.6 per cent in the second quarter.
While Hungary is one of the approved countries on the UK’s ‘travel corridor’ list, the new rules means that foreigners will not be allowed in.
Exceptions to the entry ban will apply to military convoys and for humanitarian transit, as well as business or diplomatic travel.
After talks with Czech prime minister Andrej Babis on Monday, Orban agreed to let Czech visitors who have already booked holidays for September enter the country.
The slight relaxation in the rules was later extended to Poland and Slovakia, Hungary’s foreign ministry ministry said in a statement.
Visitors coming to Hungary have to produce a negative test not older than five days, which Budapest says is secure enough.
A queue of vehicles crossing in the other direction towards Austria, as Hungary shut its borders to foreigners and ordered returning Hungarians into quarantine
An Austrian police officer inspects vehicles queuing to enter the country from Hungary in the early hours of Tuesday
Cabinet chief Gergely Gulyas said Hungarian citizens could leave the 14-day quarantine only if they provided two negative tests.
‘The number of infections has increased … and most of these originate from abroad,’ Gulyas told a news conference last week.
‘We would not like to reintroduce lockdown measures,’ Gulyas said.
He said the border restrictions were needed to allow the school year to start this week, and protect people as well as the economy.
Hungary’s national police chief will have the power to grant exemptions in other limited cases.
Vehicles queuing at the border crossing early today as Hungary tries to halt an alarming resurgence in coronavirus cases
Gulyas tested negative for the virus last week after he and other officials gathered at a private event with a party spokesman who later tested positive.
Foreign minister Peter Szijjarto also came under fire last week after he was spotted on a yacht in Croatia while sharing pictures appearing to show him hard at work in an office.
Budapest is due to host the UEFA Super Cup tie between Champions League winners Bayern and Europa League holders Sevilla next month.
The government is considering various ways in which fans might be allowed to attend the match on September 24, Gulyas said.
The Champions League and Europa League finals were played behind closed doors, but UEFA is willing to allow a limited attendance at the Super Cup.
One possibility is that that fans would have to produce two negative tests at the airport, would be transported directly to the stadium and back to the airport after the game.