During the Easter weekend there was a lack of clarity about what the rules are at the German-Dutch border. What is actually still allowed when it comes to travelling from the Netherlands to Germany and vice versa? Both the government in North Rhine-Westphalia (NRW) and in the Netherlands have communicated recommendations not to enter the country at Easter. Dear tourists: stay away! That sounded like good advice. Or was it a ban? That makes quite a difference. But it wasn’t clear from the communication from both governments which of the two, advice or ban, was meant exactly. This lead to confusing situations at the border.

The newspaper reports of the weekend are also somewhat confusing in this respect. There is talk of the Dutch Marechaussee at the border who sent German drivers back because they only wanted to go shopping. That is not really in accordance with the rules, because the Netherlands has not yet issued an entry ban that would not allow you to enter the country without good reason. Or has it?

Germany: entry ban, The Netherlands: no entry ban

There were prohibitions for certain areas, for example for the Heuvelland region between Aachen and Maastricht. But there is no general ban on travelling to The Netherlands. And in NRW? It was striking that Prime Minister Laschet proudly announced that he had ensured that the border remained open, which in fact it is not. Because since the Federal Government’s decision of 6 April, access to Germany is no longer allowed without a valid reason. At least, that applies to people without residence in Germany. By the way, this means that, in principle, it is the same situation as when entering Belgium.

There is a general entry ban in North Rhine-Westphalia and exceptions are made only for special groups such as border commuters and lorry drivers. This prevents Dutch people crossing the border to refuel, go for a walk or go shopping. This is not a recommendation, but a ban. However, this has not been properly communicated. Maybe Ministerpräsident Laschet, when he said that the border stays open, meant that goods transport and border workers are not affected. There is really only one difference with the Belgian situation: at the border with North Rhine-Westphalia there are no official controls. Or rather: there are no direct checks at the border, but random checks in the border area. This does not contribute to clarity either.

Quarantine rules also unclear

And who should be quarantined? In the next few days, the subject of quarantine is likely to raise many questions. The new regulation in NRW (dated 9 April) stipulates that people who have been abroad for more than 72 hours and then enter Germany must go directly to their own house or other accommodation and stay there for 14 days. They must report to the health office of their neighbourhood or town. This is the general rule. What will now lead to many questions are the exceptions: border commuters, business travellers, service technicians, lorry drivers, diplomats, travellers on their way to another EU country, and so on. This causes many groups of people to have questions. Another reason for clear communication from the authorities.

By Martin Unfried, researcher at the Institute for Transnational and Euregional cross border cooperation and Mobility / ITEM