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It's a question that is on many people's minds: can I legally cross into Belgium from Luxembourg to visit IKEA or another non-essential store?
We at RTL Today have spent the morning breaking our heads trying to answer this most crucial question posed by our readers below articles and social media posts (and we're worried about how to explain this invested time to our superiors). The complexity of the situation was reflected in the fact that after contacting local and federal police, the Ministry of the Interior and the coronavirus hotline, we were even more confused because few contacts knew who we should actually talk to. Here are our findings.
As of Wednesday 27 January, non-essential travel to and from Belgium is prohibited, and a filled-out travel document is required for anyone travelling by road, air, sea and rail. Cross-border commuters are able to travel normally, provided they have necessary proof. This form lists several reasons why the journey is valid, ranging from work-related trips to emergencies.
Below we've listed reasons for and against going to Belgium and, more specifically, paying IKEA a visit. Because let's be honest, that's the only thing you care about.
Arguments in favour of crossing the border
According to Belgium's coronavirus information website, travel is only allowed for a certain number of reasons: (1) compelling family reasons, (2) humanitarian reasons, (3) study purposes, (4) residents of border areas, (5) professional reasons when performing work-related activities, or (6) miscellaneous.
One section of the form relates to Luxembourg residents and explains the reason for the journey:
"A trip for one inhabitant of one of the border municipalities and their direct neighbouring municipalities in the border country as part of daily life for activities that are also authorised in the country of primary residence and which are necessary; a trip of a local from a border area to the border country as part of daily life for activities which are also authorised in the country of primary residence and which are necessary for as far as credible proof of this can be provided"
As you can probably imagine there is a lot to unpack here. The fact that "miscellaneous" is mentioned as a separate point is questionable in itself and really blurs the attempt to finding a clear, concise answer.
A resident living in a municipality touching the Belgian border may thus cross the border "as part of their daily life of activities which are also authorised in the country of primary residence". Were IKEA to exist in Luxembourg, shopping there would be permitted (as non-essential shops are open in the Grand Duchy). Furthermore, Belgian residents may continue paying visits to the furniture giant.
On 24 January, Petra De Sutter, Deputy Prime Minister, in charge of public enterprises and the civil service, said on Belgian TV that "if you are used to shopping on the other side of the border, there is no problem." While this comment was related to Belgian residents, one would presume it sets a similar guideline for residents from Luxembourg.
Arguments against crossing the border
When contacting the coronavirus information hotline, RTL Today was told that while essential trips to supermarkets and butchers are permitted, IKEA would not be deemed necessary, and thus forbidden. Indeed, the form states that these trips must be "necessary for as far as credible proof of this can be provided". Showing a purchase receipt of a KALLAX cupboard to officers may not be convincing enough.
RTL's mobile reporter visited the border area on Wednesday morning and stated that police checks occur at the Aire de Hondelange, which is situated after the IKEA exit, but units are also on standby in Sterpenich (IKEA exit). (As a side note: at the Knauf Schmëtt shopping mall in the north, police officers are stationed right on the border line).
Conclusion: What to do?
Just don't travel.
While you may get away with crossing into Belgium, popping over to your favourite store and returning to Luxembourg without a fine or police check, you are risking a non-essential trip. You could argue that the restrictions in place are too vague and can be interpreted in a million different ways, and we at RTL Today would in principle agree with you.
However, we can conclude that the main purpose of crossing the border should remain an essential trip. For now, buy local and order IKEA online.