UPDATE: EU agrees to reopen borders to 15 countries but excludes US from safe travel list
EU countries have finally agreed to reopen their external borders on July 1st to visitors from 15 countries but American tourists will still not be allowed to travel to Europe because the US is still considered a risk due to the high number of Covid-19 cases.
The EU 27 member states on Tuesday gave the green light to a list of 15 countries whose citizens will be allowed to travel to European Union from July 1st.
A statement from European Council read: "The Council today adopted a recommendation on the gradual lifting of the temporary restrictions on non-essential travel into the EU. 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 list of safe countries now provisionally includes China, although certain conditions have to be met, but it does not include the US, Brazil, India or Russia.
The other countries on the safe list are: Algeria, Australia, Canada, Georgia, Japan, Montenegro, Morocco, New Zealand, Rwanda, Serbia, South Korea, Thailand, Tunisia and Uruguay.
The UK is not affected by the travel restrictions.
Americans planning to travel to Europe will be hugely disappointed the US has not made the list, but EU member states clearly decided the resurgence of the virus across the Atlantic, plus the huge number of cases and deaths meant the risk was still too high.
The US has seen over 2.5 million cases and suffered over 125,000 deaths, roughly a quarter of the global total. In recent days there has been a resurgence of Covid-19 cases in many states across the country.
China has also been provisionally approved as the 15th name on the list, but travel will only be allowed if Beijing also allows in EU travellers.
Reciprocity is a condition for all countries on the list.
But the final decision ultimately rests with member states because while the list has been agreed upon at a political level it is not legally binding. Border control remains a national competence and not something that is decided at EU level.
The EU states: "A Member State should not decide to lift the travel restrictions for non-listed third countries before this has been decided in a coordinated manner."
The list will be reviewed every two weeks and adjusted depending on the latest coronavirus spread in each country.
Countries were included on the safe list if the coronavirus outbreak in the country was judged to be the same or better than that EU average. The bar was fixed at 16 cases per 100,000 people over the last two weeks.
The EU and Schengen area countries (Switzerland, Norway and Iceland) lifted border controls for EU citizens travelling inside the bloc on June 15th and from July 1st will open their external borders.
UK nationals are treated in the same way as EU citizens until the end of the Brexit transition period on 31 December so can travel freely to Europe, although they may to have to enter quarantine on their return.
In 2016, some 12 million Americans travelled to Europe with Italy, France, Germany and Spain among the most popular destinations.
One study in Italy said the loss of American tourists would mean a loss of €1.8 billion in revenue.
Countries like France and Germany have along with the Commission stressed the need for a "common and coordinated approach" and don't want individual states going it alone.
The Commission has also made it clear the continued restrictions after July 1st wouldn't apply to EU nationals, those from Schengen area countries (Switzerland, Norway, Iceland) or non-EU nationals and family members who have their main residence in Europe "regardless of whether or not they are returning home".
The Council's statement said: "For countries where travel restrictions continue to apply, the following categories of people should be exempted from the restrictions:
- EU citizens and their family members
- long-term EU residents and their family members
- travellers with an essential function or need
The list needed a “qualified majority” of EU countries to be passed, meaning 15 EU countries representing 65% of the population had to agree to it.
As Reuters reports The move is aimed at supporting the EU travel industry and tourist destinations, particularly countries in southern Europe hardest hit by the COVID-19 pandemic.
What happens now?
The EU states: "This list of third countries should be reviewed every two weeks and may be updated by the Council, as the case may be, after close consultations with the Commission and the relevant EU agencies and services following an overall assessment based on the criteria above."
"Travel restrictions may be totally or partially lifted or reintroduced for a specific third country already listed according to changes in some of the conditions and, as a consequence, in the assessment of the epidemiological situation. If the situation in a listed third country worsens quickly, rapid decision-making should be applied."