As the European Union prepares to reopen its external borders, a non-mandatory list of 15 countries—excluding the United States—whose travelers will be permitted to enter from July 1, has been agreed by representatives of 27 member states after prolonged negotiations, in an attempt to rescue the summer tourism season.
Although the E.U. member states are still struggling with the number of ‘safe countries’ included in the list, which will be updated every two weeks, it’s been confirmed that the member states have agreed to a shortlist of 15 whose citizens will be allowed to enter when external borders reopen.
“The Council today adopted a recommendation on the gradual lifting of the temporary restrictions on non-essential travel into the E.U.,” the official announcement specifies. “Travel restrictions should be lifted for countries listed in the recommendation, with this list being reviewed and, as the case may be, updated every two weeks.”
“The European Union will open its borders to visitors from 15 countries as of Wednesday,” writes The New York Times, “but not to travelers from the United States, Brazil or Russia, putting into effect a complex policy that seeks to balance health concerns with politics, diplomacy and the desperate need for tourism revenue.”
The list is only a recommendation since border controls are left up to the decision of each country. The E.U. countries are free to expand the number of countries from which they would permit travel but have been warned of the dangers if they go their own way.
“Ultimately, it will remain up to individual E.U. countries to make the call for their borders, meaning in some cases countries could reimpose internal borders,” writes Euronews.
British nationals are still to be treated in the same way as E.U. citizens until the end of the Brexit transition period on December 31, 2020. The same applies to residents of Andorra, Monaco, San Marino and the Vatican.
At the risk of antagonizing President Donald Trump, most visitors from the U.S. will remain banned from entering the E.U. because of the country’s rising infection rate. The average of 16 cases per 100,000 inhabitants in the U.S. was used as a key threshold for deciding the countries to be included in the “safe list.”
Russia, Brazil and India are also banned while China is among those permitted to enter under a condition of reciprocity by the Chinese government for E.U. travelers, although there are serious doubts about the accuracy of the Chinese data on the country’s infection rates.
Based on the criteria and conditions set out in the recommendation, as from July 1 member states should start lifting the travel restrictions at the external borders for residents of the following countries:
China (subject to confirmation of reciprocity)
A Difficult Decision
The decision to keep the U.S. among the banned countries is one of the reasons for the lengthy negotiations as a number of E.U. governments opposed the U.S. exclusion, with some including Greece suggesting, according to The Guardian, unilaterally to reopen to U.S. visitors. At the end, Greece accepted the joint decision.
More than 15 million Americans are estimated to visit Europe each year, while some 10 million Europeans travel to the U.S.
Originally the goal was to reopen to countries with an epidemiological situation ‘comparable or better’ than that of the bloc—16 or fewer cases of COVID-19 per 100,000 inhabitants—but “the health-based criteria collided with geopolitics, with some countries reluctant to collectively ban the U.S. while welcoming visitors from China, where the pandemic began,” Euroactiv reports.
“A qualified majority in support of reopening to the 15 selected countries was achieved when the Spanish government, wary of a second wave in Europe, moved from being skeptical about the length of the list to backing it on economic grounds,” The Guardian writes.
Border controls inside the E.U. have been lifted and once travelers are inside they can travel freely between countries.
Non-essential travel to the E.U. has been banned since mid-March, when member states closed their borders without central coordination as the pandemic spread.
The restrictions have been gradually lifted, with July 1 being the “official” date for a more general opening as the infection rate recedes, although some countries have seen new outbreaks of the coronavirus infection.
Uncertainty And Unpredictability Persist
Only a limited number of flights to and from banned countries have continued throughout the crisis and the resumption of operations at airports is still in process with limitations on the number of flights and adjustments to new security measures as ‘air bridges’ are being negotiated among countries.
Some E.U. countries are still restricting travel from other bloc members despite borders officially being reopened in Europe.
New spikes in the spread of the virus in countries including Portugal and Luxembourg, that already seemed to have the situation under control, foretells of a summer of uncertainty for every country, with the risk of last-minute changes and cancellations.
Surveys show that given the unpredictability of the virus and the likelihood of second waves of infection, many people inside and outside Europe remain wary of travel this summer and are choosing instead the option of “staycations.”