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Sarkozy seeks support for euro plan

France and Germany drummed up support for their plan to fix the eurozone Thursday as European leaders geared up for a last chance summit to save the debt-laden currency union from collapse.

Sarkozy seeks support for euro plan
World Economic Forum

With hours to go before the EU summit in Brussels, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Nicolas Sarkozy were hoping to rally support at a meeting of conservative EU leaders in the French port of Marseille.

Paris and Berlin are desperate to win backing for their plan to amend EU treaties to impose budget discipline and streamline decision-making to prevent debt woes from spreading through the 17-member eurozone.

Ahead of the summit, officials made it clear just how much was at stake.

“The situation is serious… the euro can explode and Europe unravel,” France’s minister for European affairs, Jean Leonetti, warned on French television.

“The entire world is watching. We must do everything” to save the euro, European Commission chief Jose Manuel Barroso told reporters in Marseille, where a summit of the European People’s Party brought together conservative leaders.

“It is extremely important that we all together, all the EU, show that the euro is irreversible,” he said.

The Franco-German plan would impose stricter fiscal rules including legal or constitutional limits on deficits and automatic penalties for eurozone nations that overspend.

It also proposes a “new, common legal framework” to boost financial and labour market regulation, the harmonisation of the corporate tax base and the imposition of a tax on financial transactions.

The summit is facing tough obstacles, officials said, including Germany’s refusal to embark on anything short of a full treaty change and British demands for protection of its vital financial services industry.

Piling on the pressure, ratings agency Standard & Poor’s on Wednesday put a number of large European banks on review and placed the European Union on watch for a downgrade of its AAA credit rating – just days after it issued an identical warning to nearly all eurozone countries.

S&P’s chief economist for Europe, Jean-Michel Six, said however that the agency was not working on the basis that the eurozone will break up.

Amid fears the eurozone’s woes could trigger a global economic downturn, US President Barack Obama spoke by telephone with Merkel on Wednesday, urging a “lasting and credible solution” to the crisis.

In Milan Thursday for talks with Italy’s Prime Minister Mario Monti, US Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, who spent the week meeting with European officials, backed the new leader and his recently unveiled austerity programme.

“I think we can be encouraged and the world can be encouraged at the progress of these last few weeks,” Geithner said.

Germany poured cold water on hopes for the summit on Wednesday, with officials warning that talks would be “difficult” and expressing pessimism.

Prime Minister David Cameron also made it clear that Britain intended to seek a high price for supporting euro nations.

“The more that countries in the eurozone ask for, the more we will ask for in return,” he told parliament. He threatened to veto any treaty change if Britain failed to receive “safeguards” from its European partners, particularly for the City of London financial services hub.

Fellow non-eurozone member Sweden also said treaty changes were not the solution markets want.

“I don’t think that’s the solution markets following us are actually looking for,” Swedish Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt said in Marseille.

“The markets are looking into if we get enough firepower in the firewall and if we do enough when it comes to increase fiscal discipline and also reforms in the most troubled countries,” Reinfeldt said.

The EU talks have also focused on finding ways to bolster the eurozone’s financial firewall, with possibilities including allowing two rescue funds to exist temporarily side-by-side instead of just the single bailout fund currently in existence – the European Financial Stability Facility (EFSF).

Leaders have warned that if the 27-nation EU cannot reach a deal, the eurozone could go it alone.

“I will not accept that when it comes to financial services, Britain reserves rights and freedom of action for itself that others will not have,” Luxembourg Prime Minister Jean-Claude Juncker, the head of eurozone finance ministers, told France Info radio.

“If ever within the 27 there are countries which do not want to accompany us in looking for this better architecture, we will reach a deal within the 17,” he said.

Merkel, along with Sarkozy and European Central Bank chief Mario Draghi, plus three other senior eurozone figures, will stage their own negotiating huddle ahead of the Brussels summit starting at 7:30 pm (1830 GMT).

The ECB was meanwhile set to cut its key rates for the second time in two months just hours ahead of the summit, in a bid to ease pressure on eurozone borrowing.

New chief Draghi cut rates by a quarter of a percentage point last month and analysts expect a similar move when the ECB’s decision-making body holds its monthly interest-rate meeting Thursday, bringing borrowing costs in the euro area down to just 1.0 percent.

European stocks mostly rose as traders looked ahead to the ECB’s decision, but Asian markets slipped on fears the summit will fail to deliver a conclusive deal.

A group of European labour leaders meanwhile released a public letter urging officials not to forget the “social dimension” in talks.

“We believe that the modification (of treaties) cannot have as the only objective to put constant pressure on national budgets and reinforce austerity,” the union heads wrote.

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TRAVEL

UPDATE: Is it possible to drive between Spain and the UK via France?

Travelling between Spain and the UK during the pandemic has been very difficult due to border closures, cancelled flights and quarantines, but what is the situation like now? Is it possible to drive between Spain and the UK via France?

Driving between Spain and UK
Photo: Bertsz / 67 images/ Pixabay

Several readers have asked about the restrictions and necessary documents and tests needed to drive to the UK and if it’s possible. Here’s what you need to know.

Travelling by car between the UK and Spain at the moment is possible, but not very easy. Although it’s a lot easier now than it was before the state of alarm ended, it will still involve PCR and/or antigen testing, quarantine, and lots of form-filling. This will mean extra expenses too. 

Spain and France have both updated their rules on travel as restrictions begin to ease. Here’s a look at what you need to know driving between the UK and Spain, via France right now.

Leaving Spain

Movement in Spain has become a lot easier since the end of the state of alarm on May 9th. This means that you can easily drive across regional borders without the need to prove specific reasons.

There may still be certain municipalities or health zones that you might need to avoid because their borders are still closed due to a high number of cases, but for the most part, your drive through Spain, up until the French border, will be easy.

Keep in mind that some regions still have certain restrictions in place such as when bars and restaurants are allowed to open and a few still maintain curfews, so you’ll need to check the rules of those regions you’re planning on driving through.

READ ALSO: UPDATED: What are the post state of alarm restrictions in each region in Spain?

Crossing the French border from Spain

Travel into France is allowed for any reason, including for tourism and family visits. This easing of restrictions was introduced on May 3rd, which saw France opening up both its regional and international borders.

According to the French embassy in Spain: “Entry into the metropolitan territory from a country in the European area is subject to the presentation, by travellers over eleven years of age, of a negative result of a PCR test, carried out within 72 hours prior to departure. This obligation applies to all modes of travel (arrival by road, rail, air or sea)”.

They also state that all travellers will have to present an affidavit/certificate of international travel, certifying that they do not have symptoms of Covid-19 infection and that they are not aware of having been in contact with a confirmed case of Covid-19 in the fourteen days prior to the trip.

“If you are over eleven years old, you agree that a biological test for SARS-CoV-2 will be carried out upon arrival on French territory” it continues.

The certificate can be downloaded from the website of the French Ministry. The supporting documents must be presented to the control authorities at the border.

The test must be carried out within 72 hours of departing for France and the antigen test is not accepted. You must take a PCR test, otherwise, you’ll be refused entry to France.

A Spanish police officer checks PCR coronavirus tests at the border between Spain and France. Photo: RAYMOND ROIG / AFP

You can drive straight through France, as there’s no quarantine requirement for those coming from inside the EU.

Note that France still has several restrictions in place, but they are gradually easing. As of May 19th, the curfew was extended to 9pm and bars and restaurants were allowed to operate outdoor services only. This means that you’ll need to stop driving and find somewhere to spend the night after the 9pm cut-off time.

If you have to travel past curfew for an essential reason, you will need an attestation permission form, which you can find HERE.

From June 9th, the curfew will be extended again until 11pm and the interiors of bars and restaurants will be allowed to re-open. 

Masks are compulsory in all indoor public spaces across the country, and also outdoors in most of the larger towns and cities. If you don’t wear one, you could face a fine of €135.

Entering the UK

On May 17th, the UK government lifted its ban on all non-essential travel abroad and replaced it with the traffic light system, assigning countries to red, amber or green lists, according to their health data.

France and Spain are currently on the amber list, as well as most other European countries, bar Portugal, which is on the green list.

READ ALSO: EXPLAINED: The European countries on England’s ‘amber’ travel list and what that means

This means that you must follow the amber list rules.

The UK government website states that if coming from an amber-list country, even if you’ve been vaccinated, you need to follow these rules before you enter England:

 On arrival in England you must:

  • quarantine at home or in the place you are staying for 10 days
  • take a COVID-19 test on or before day 2 and on or after day 8

Children aged 4 and under do not need to take the day 2 or day 8 test.

You may be able to end quarantine early if you pay for a private COVID-19 test through the Test to Release scheme.

The traffic light list only applies to England, but Scotland also has its own traffic-light system, which at the moment has the same green-list countries as England. It is thought that Wales and Northern Ireland are likely to adopt the traffic light system too.

If you’re entering the UK from an amber country, you can go for any reason. It doesn’t have to be an essential trip and entry is not limited to UK nationals or residents.

Find further information on UK travel rules HERE.

If in the future, France makes it onto the green list, then no quarantine will be necessary. Regardless, of this, a negative Covid-19 test is still needed to enter England, plus another test on or before day 2.

What about driving back to Spain?

The UK is still advising against travel to amber countries for leisure or tourism reasons, which France and Spain are both currently on.

This isn’t a travel ban, but the official stand can mean that your travel insurance won’t be valid, so check your policy before you travel.

JUNE UPDATE: From Monday, May 31st, France is tightening up entry requirements for arrivals from the UK, following in the footsteps of Germany and Austria as European countries become increasingly concerned about circulation of the ‘Indian variant’ of Covid in the UK.

So what’s the situation if you are just passing through?

If you are returning to your permanent residence in another EU or Schengen zone country then you can travel, as one of the listed ‘vital reasons’ is returning home. You will, however, need to show some proof of your residency, ideally a residency card.

If you are travelling for another reason you can travel through France, provided you spend less than 24 hours in the country.

The testing requirement applies to all arrivals, even if you are only passing through France, but if you spend less than 24 hours in the country you are not required to quarantine.

You will also need to check the rules in your destination country on arrivals from France. If you are entering France from an EU or Schengen zone country you will need to show a negative Covid test taken within the previous 72 hours and this must be a PCR test. You can enter France for any reason from an EU/Schengen country.

And yes, these rules all apply even to the fully vaccinated.

To find out more about the rules and exceptions for travel between France and the UK click the link below.

READ MORE: Spain-UK road travel – Can I transit through France despite the new Indian variant restrictions?

Currently, the Spanish government website states that only citizens and legal residents of the European Union, Schengen states, Andorra, Monaco, The Vatican and San Marino, as well as those who can demonstrate through documentary evidence an essential need to enter Spain, will be able to enter the country.

However, Spain recently announced that it would welcome British tourists into the country without a negative PCR test from May 24th. 

READ ALSO:

The website also states that “all overland travellers (excluding children under the age of 6 years old) who wish to enter Spain by road from France, are required to present a negative PCR or antigen test taken within 72 hours prior to entry”.

This applies to everyone, even if you have been vaccinated already.

Please note The Local is not able to give advice on individual cases. For more information on international travel to and from Spain, see the government’s website and check the restrictions in your destination country with the appropriate embassy.

READ ALSO: Reader question: Can I fly from the UK to Spain to visit family or my second home?

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