Commission sets out plan to gradually reopen EU external borders by 1 July

European Commissioner for Home Affairs, Ylva Johansson, gives a press conference on Covid-19 gradual lifting of restrictions at borders in Brussels, Belgium, 11 June 2020. [EPA-EFE/OLIVIER HOSLET]

The EU executive spelled out on Thursday (11 June) recommendations to member states to fully reopen the bloc’s internal borders on 15 June and then allow travellers from selected countries to enter the bloc from 1 July.

The 27 EU member states are set to gradually phase-out restrictions imposed to slow down the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic and many national governments are seeking to restart tourism in time for the peak summer season.

In a word of warning, the European Commission, which is trying to coordinate the moves, said it was too early to completely abandon restrictions on travellers coming from outside the EU.

Instead, it called for a “common coordinated approach”, lifting the ban on non-essential travel for countries where the pandemic is at a similar level to the EU and adequate disease control measures are in place.

The Commission said restrictions should be lifted from July 1 for the Western Balkans six –  Albania, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Kosovo, Montenegro, North Macedonia and Serbia – because “their epidemiological situation is similar or better than that of the EU”.

Exceptions to restrictions will apply to students and highly-skilled non-EU workers.

“International travel is key for tourism and business, and for family and friends reconnecting,” said European home affairs Commissioner, Ylva Johansson.

Internal borders

The lifting of the travel ban is also dependent on EU member states reopening their internal borders around 15 June.

“You should open up as soon as possible,” Johansson said when asked about internal borders, explaining that the European Centre for Disease Control (ECDC) had said the closure of internal borders was “not an effective way of dealing with the pandemic now”.

“While we will all have to remain careful, the time has come to make concrete preparations for lifting restrictions with countries whose health situation is similar to the EU’s,” the Commissioner said.

Some internal EU borders have already reopened, including between Austria and the Czech Republic, and more are set to follow at the start of next week.

However, not all EU member states plan to reopen borders to EU travellers next week. Spain and Portugal are set to reopen later in June, Denmark is only opening borders with Germany, Iceland and Norway, while other member states such as Hungary are set to leave some of their borders closed for now.

Meanwhile, certain member states such as Cyprus have announced in recent weeks “blacklists” for travellers coming from particular member states.

Poland, on the other hand, will open its borders with all EU countries on Saturday (13 June), and allow international flights from next Tuesday, Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki said on Wednesday.

Johansson already warned last week that not all EU countries agreed on the criteria for reopening borders to travellers from the rest of the world.

However, tourism-dependent countries such as Greece have been pushing for a swift reopening, with Athens already announcing it will welcome travellers from a list of non-EU countries including Australia, China and South Korea from 15 June.

[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]

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