This past month, for the first time in over a year, I traveled across a border. I was both excited and nervous about it. I had to navigate a whirlwind of mixed messages. I was unsure of the conditions under which I could travel, what I needed to do to avoid a quarantine both when leaving and returning, and how likely it was that the rules might change over the three weeks I was planning to be away.
Since working on this CEEIHM issue was at the top of my to-do list, I couldn’t help but reflect: All of these challenges are keeping me in limbo while I am simply trying to plan a quick trip to visit my parents. I can’t even begin to imagine what dealing with this level of ambiguity and fluidity can mean for a GC trying to steer a company through these times.
The most fascinating element of my trip was my interaction with the Hungarian border control officer — let’s call her Jane — on the way back to Budapest. After the customary passport check, Jane asked me for the “paperwork” I had to have to avoid a 10-day quarantine. I presented my Romanian vaccination certificate —but she rejected it, because “it was not issued in Hungary.” I then offered the negative results of a recent PCR test, which she dismissed without even looking at it (money spent on the test aside, I was quite frustrated to have undergone the unpleasant procedure for nothing). Finally, I handed over a letter from CEE Legal Matters stating that I was traveling to Hungary for “business purposes.” On this basis, finally, I was allowed back into the country, sans quarantine.
“What a weird set of rules,” I thought to myself, driving on towards Budapest. Jane didn’t care that the letter was something that anyone could have written up for anyone – an employee of the company or not – using publicly available identifiers of our company. That basic letter trumped official government-issued certification that I am vaccinated and a medical institution’s PCR test results. Even more flabergasting, a quarantine – a solution imposed to minimize the spread of the virus – was to be applied when I had proof that I was vaccinated and healthy, but was deemed not necessary because I was traveling “on business.”
Don’t get me wrong; as an entrepreneur and a journalist covering 24 countries, I’m all for facilitating business travel. Still, I couldn’t help but remember all the interviews I’ve conducted with Heads of Legal/Compliance who spoke at length about the need to avoid unnecessary red tape because it nurtures a compliance culture focused on blindly ticking off at-times-nonsensical boxes rather than understanding the need for those rules, facilitating their real incorporation by internal clients into their business routines. Either as a result of poor rule development or poor dissemination of the rules to the executioners, what Jane was doing did not really help reduce the spread of the virus – it was pure paper-pushing.
Don’t be, or allow your colleagues to be, a Jane. Learn from the amazing contributors of this issue how to avoid that, and so much more.
By Radu Cotarcea