Friday

26th Feb 2021

Coronavirus

Internal EU borders open by 15 June - bar V4, Portugal, Spain

  • 'Without a fully functional Schengen there will neither be a recovery nor a promising future for the EU,' according to socialist MEP Juan Fernando Lopez Aguilar (Photo: wfbakker2)

Most - but not all - EU member states have committed to opening borders and related travel restrictions by mid-June.

It follows calls by the European Commission to restore freedom of movement within the EU, as the continent was under virtual shutdown for three months due to the coronavirus pandemic.

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However, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland and Slovakia rejected making a concrete commitment during the meeting of home affairs ministers on Friday (5 June).

Similarly, Spain announced that its borders will only open from July - inducing neighbouring Portugal to adopt the same position.

"I believe we will return to the full functioning of the Schengen Area and the freedom of movement of citizens no later than the end of June - both the health and political situation allows it," said the commissioner for home affairs Ylva Johansson after the videoconference with member states on Friday.

The epidemiological situation in Europe shows a "strong positive convergence," she said, adding that "health authorities made clear that there is no longer a clear justification for travel restrictions or border measures in the EU and Schengen Area".

New coronavirus infections in the EU have declined below 100 per 100,000 people during the last two weeks, according to the data from the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control shared with the home affairs ministers.

The commission previously announced a three-phase approach to gradually reopen internal borders - when there is a similar epidemiological situation in different countries or regions.

Additionally, the majority of member states want to extend the EU's travel ban on non-EU nationals until 1 July.

Although the UK will be exempt, several member states will oblige British citizens to follow two weeks quarantine.

Lack of coordination - again?

Since the beginning of the coronavirus outbreak, some member states have been taking unilateral measures - including export bans on medical supplies or the closure of borders.

This lack of coordination can still be seen in the context of border restrictions. While some countries have imposed quarantine or coronavirus testing results for travellers, others allow entry into their territory without any restrictions.

The Netherlands decided on Wednesday to initially open its borders only for nationals of 12 members states - namely Belgium, Bulgaria, Germany, Estonia, Italy, Croatia, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Portugal, Slovenia, and the Czech Republic.

Similarly, Croatia decided to reopen its borders for citizens of 10 countries.

However, commissioner Johansson warned that "the nationality of the person entering a territory is not a relevant factor since so many [EU] citizens do not reside in their member state of nationality".

Additionally, Denmark will allow its citizens to travel to Germany, Iceland and Norway from June 15 as the risk-level of these three countries will be downgraded from 'orange' to 'yellow'.

Spain was forced last Thursday into a U-turn after it announced that its borders with Portugal and France would be open this month - without informing Lisbon about such measure.

Eventually, the Spanish minister of tourism clarified that "international mobility" would not resume until July.

'No Schengen, no recovery'

MEPs also called on Thursday on member states to lift all internal border control to restore the normal functioning of the Schengen area.

"If there is no Schengen, there is no recovery. Without a fully functional Schengen there will neither be a recovery nor a promising future for the EU," said socialist MEP Juan Fernando Lopez Aguilar, who chairs the committee of civil liberties and home affairs.

"We must see restrictions on the freedom of movement reduced to the same extent as the relaxation of Covid-19 containment measures," said MEP Ioan-Rareș Bogdan from the European People's Party.

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

How the EU thinks summer holidays can be done

The EU commission has proposed measures aimed at resuming travel in the EU "in a responsible and coordinated way" - with different advice on transport, hotels, and cross-border trips.

EU to unveil summer holiday plans amid Schengen fears

The European Commission is set to announce a three-phase approach on Wednesday to gradually reopen internal borders. However, concerns over how the principle of free movement in the EU will be affected is growing - as countries announce different approaches.

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.

Vestager pushes tracing apps as key for summer holidays

The commissioner for the digital portfolio, Margrethe Vestager, warned that "without the technology, it will be very difficult to open [society] to the degree that we all want" - since new outbreaks might surge back until there is a vaccine.

Opinion

'Covid passports' for Eastern Partnership neighbours?

Belarus' incidence of the disease is currently higher than in Italy. Ukraine and Azerbaijan have counts comparable to Poland and the Czech Republic, where the outbreak had an average intensity. Whereas, Georgia compares well with Greece and Slovakia.

Infographic

How EU countries will open up in June and July

Italy and Germany, among others, opening with almost no restrictions, while Denmark, Greece, and the Baltic states, for instance, proceeding more gradually, with white-lists of who can come in.

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