Thursday

15th Apr 2021

EU to unveil summer holiday plans amid Schengen fears

  • 'The process will be complicated. Member states have introduced different measures in a very uncoordinated manner and unwinding these different national decisions will take some time,' warned Monique Pariat (Photo: U.S. Army Europe Images)

The EU's external borders will be shut down until mid-June as a measure to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, although cross-border travel within the bloc could be resumed earlier.

The European Commission is set to announce a three-phase approach on Wednesday (13 May) to gradually reopen internal borders.

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"The main criteria that must be used [by member states] to keep or lift internal border is the approximation of the epidemiological situation in different countries," the head of the commission's directorate-general for home affairs, Monique Pariat, told MEPs in the committee on civil liberties ahead of the announcement.

"The process will be complicated. Member states have introduced different measures in a very uncoordinated manner and unwinding these different national decisions will take some time," Pariat added.

"The challenge which lies ahead of us is to restore the integrity of the Schengen area, in concretely by returning to the unrestrictive freedom of movement of persons, goods and services," she warned.

In the first phase, internal borders controls should be lifted in a coordinated manner, in which member states should inform each other of their intentions to ease restrictions to limit the impact on the internal market, transport sector and free movement, the Croatian minister of the interior Terezija Gras, whose country holds the EU's council presidency, told MEPs on Tuesday (12 May).

"Restrictions on travel should first be eased between areas with a comparable low circulation of the virus, although regional specificities should be considered," she added.

After internal borders are reopened, restrictions on the EU's external borders would be lifted. This combination "will eventually lead to restoring the normal functioning of the Schengen area," Gras also said.

Earlier this year, the EU Commission president Ursula von der Leyen said that travel bans and border closures were not seen by the World Health Organization (WHO) as the most effective measure to halt the spread of the virus.

'No bilateral deals'

Meanwhile, the commission has spoken against bilateral agreements between member states - stressing that all EU citizens should be allowed to cross a border once is open, regardless of their nationality.

Likewise, the commission warned European countries that have introduced 14-day quarantines for travellers entering their territory that this measure must be "proportional and non-discriminatory".

"Member states will first lift restrictions at home based on objective criteria, not on nationality or proximity. Once member states allow travelling to an area they must not discriminate," warned the commissioner for home affairs, Ylva Johansson, on Tuesday.

However, Austrian chancellor Sebastian Kurz, for one example, said last week that he intends to open the borders this summer for tourists coming from "safe countries" like Germany or the Czech Republic.

And recent reports indicate that several countries - Australia, Austria, Israel, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Greece, Singapore and New Zealand - are working to open "possible travel corridors" between each other for this summer, what could mean that travelling this summer from Greece to Israel could be easier than from Greece to Italy.

Death of Schengen - again

"The serious risk we are facing today is the death of Schengen, we simply cannot afford this," warned socialist MEP Tanja Fajon.

"It is in a very poor and problematic state. It has been hit years ago by the refugee crisis and the virus delivered another blow," she added

The principle of free movement of people in the EU was first in serious danger in 2015 when some member states introduced border checks due to the migration crisis - some of them even kept those controls in place.

"The freedom to move across and around Europe without check-in borders and restrictions is one of the major achievement of the EU integration and restore it as soon as possible is a priority for the commission - also taking into account the economic cost of border restrictions," said director-general Parait.

The commission pledged to prioritise tourism in an EU recovery plan as it is estimated that the tourism industry could face loses of up to €400bn.

EU Commission clash with countries over travel refund

Twelve EU countries have asked the commission to temporarily suspend rules that require travel operators to provide cash refunds for cancelled trips. The commission argues consumers have to be protected - and that vouchers should be made more attractive.

New rules coming for Europeans' summer travel

The commission will out forward guidelines for safe travel, as some member states and companies are already drawing up plans to restart tourism under the threat of the pandemic.

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