EU countries still struggle to approve border reopening ‘safe list’

Travelers wearing masks upon arrival at Palma de Mallorca Airport, which has been opened for travelers from most of Europe, Spain, 21 June 2020. [EPA-EFE/CATI CLADERA]

EU member states are still struggling to approve a list of “safe countries” from where travellers could visit Europe in July, with the issue now being put to a vote, diplomats said on Monday (29 June).

EU envoys on Friday agreed on a list of 14 countries to be confirmed by their national governments, with the United States, Brazil and Russia, where the coronavirus is still spreading, to remain excluded.

But the list has yet to achieve final approval, as capitals hesitate on whether to unify the EU’s management of its external border.

To break the deadlock, Croatia, which currently holds the EU’s rotating presidency, on Monday initiated a written approval procedure, which will end at noon on Tuesday, according to EU sources.

In this procedure, the EU’s 27 member states must decide by qualified majority. For acceptance, 55 percent of the countries are required, representing 65 percent of the population.

The proposed “safe” list contains just 14 countries: Algeria, Australia, Canada, Georgia, Japan, Montenegro, Morocco, New Zealand, Rwanda, Serbia, South Korea, Thailand, Tunisia and Uruguay.

Crucially, travellers from China would be approved to enter, but under the condition that Beijing would do the same for Europeans.

Non-essential travel to the EU has been banned since mid-March, but only after member states closed their national borders in confusion and without coordination as the pandemic grew.

The restrictions are to be gradually lifted starting July 1, as the infection rate recedes – at least in Europe – and some countries hoped for close EU coordination.

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

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 …

Whatever is decided in Brussels will exist only as a recommendation since border control remains a national competence and a limited number of flights to and from banned countries have continued throughout the crisis.

Some EU countries meanwhile have restricted travel from other bloc partners despite borders officially being reopened in Europe.

The original goal was to reopen to countries with an epidemiological situation “comparable or better” than that in the bloc – that is with 16 or fewer cases of COVID-19 per 100,000 inhabitants over the past two weeks.

However, the health-based criteria collided with geopolitics, with some countries reluctant to collectively ban the US while welcoming visitors from China, where the pandemic began.

The United States is currently the country most affected by COVID-19 with more than 125,000 deaths – while Europe believes it has passed the peak of its outbreak.

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