The French return to the Alt Empordà: "There are almost no checks"
The county expects to recover all the neighbouring clientele from Monday thanks to the EU digital certificate
El Pertús / La JonqueraChristopher and Noël live in France but spent this Sunday morning in a shopping centre in La Jonquera buying tobacco, alcoholic drinks and some food. Since March 30 it is mandatory to show a negative PCR to cross the border. Only cross-border workers, hauliers and residents of towns within 30 km of the border were exempt. However, in practice, the truth is that French and Spanish residents can cross over without being checked. "We have been coming here for two weeks. They told us that you can cross even if you don't have a PCR [test result], because nobody checks it", explain the two friends.
The experience of the two men is repeated among French population going to shop in La Jonquera. Janine and her family say that they have a negative PCR test result, but that nobody has asked to see it either: "Nothing at all, neither on the French side nor on the Spanish side do they ask to see it". Shopkeepers in the area, such as Marc, who works in an optician's, or Júlia, who is a shop assistant in a clothing store, also attest that for a couple of weeks they have noticed an increase in customers from the other side of the border. "Some tell us that there are no controls and that you can cross, and others tell you that they have a PCR [test result] because there [in France] the government pays them one test a week and the result is valid for 72 hours".
Despite the increase in French visitors they have noticed in the last two weeks, all shopkeepers consulted regret that there is nowhere near the volume of customers of the pre-covid era. In fact, the restrictions at the border have benefited the shops on the Spanish side of El Pertús the most, The village, which is split by the border, has seen daily queues for months because the price of tobacco and drinks is cheaper in Spain, and there is no border checks. "We have noticed it a lot. Before most people used to go to La Jonquera or Figueres, but since they closed the border, sales have increased a lot. We have done very well, look at all the people we have," admits one of the employees of a tobacconist, pointing to the queue outside - it goes around the block.
Few police checks
This Sunday early in the morning, in the old border buildings on the N-II in El Pertús there was only police presence on the French side: a car and 4 officers controlled the passage of vehicles, but only stopped some from time to time for a check. In both Spain and France the regulations allow citizens who live 30 km from the border to cross without showing any documents, but one of the French police officers has indicated that if the citizens come from Girona or from Perpignan "they don't need to bring a PCR", even though the capital of Girona is 60 km away. "We know it is more than 30 km away, there is a bit of laxity", admits the French police officer.
As for the Spanish side, the first agents of the National Police have not arrived until half past twelve. They are not here to check whether the citizens had their PCR test result, but to carry out "another kind of checks", according to one of the officers, who has denied that any negative test was needed to enter the State. "You are misinformed, to enter Spain you don't need a PCR, it is only to go to France, but to enter here you don't need anything." In fact, the Spanish officers let all the vehicles cross without checks and only stopped one car in which four young people were travelling. After checking the vehicle and asking for their ID cards, they let them continue their journey.
There were no controls on the AP-7 motorway either: at the La Jonquera exit, there was no police presence at the border; at the El Voló exit there were two French agents, but they only stopped a few vehicles at random.
The shops and restaurateurs of the Alt Empordà admit that the relaxation of border controls has benefited them: the arrival of French people in recent weeks has been a breath of fresh air, after months with low sales. In addition, all are celebrating that from Monday the digital certificate issued by a state of the European Union will be all that is required. This document certifies that the person has been vaccinated, has had the covid or tested negative in an antigen or PCR test.
"Hopefully from next week we will start to recover the 2019 numbers. If not, many of us will have to close because we cannot get by much longer without French customers, "says Florenci, owner of a restaurant in La Jonquera, who gives voice to the hope that most establishments in the area have.