EU formalizes reopening, barring travelers from U.S.
By Mattin Stevis-Gridneff
The European Union will open its borders to visitors from 15 countries as of Wednesday, but not to travelers from the United States, Brazil or Russia, putting into effect a complex policy that has sought to balance health concerns with politics, diplomacy and the desperate need for tourism revenue.
The list of nations that EU countries have approved includes Australia, Canada and New Zealand, while travelers from China will be permitted if China reciprocates.
The plan was drawn up based on health criteria, and EU officials went to great lengths to appear apolitical in their choices, but the decision to leave the United States off the list — lumping travelers from there in with those from Brazil and Russia — was a high-profile rebuke of the Trump administration’s handling of the coronavirus crisis.
Travelers’ country of residence, not their nationality, will be the determining factor for their ability to travel to countries in the EU, officials said, and while the policy will not be legally binding, all 27 member nations will be under pressure to comply. If not, they risk having their European peers close borders within the bloc, which would set back efforts to restart the free travel-and-trade zone that is fundamental to the club’s economic survival.
Still, some European countries, especially those in the south that see millions of visitors from all over the world throng to beaches and cultural sites during the summer, have been eager to permit more travelers in a bid to salvage their ravaged, and vital, tourism industries.
The United States was the first country to bar visitors from the EU in March as the pandemic devastated Italy and other European nations.
The bloc implemented its own travel ban in mid-March and has been gradually extending it as the pandemic spreads to other parts of the world. It had set Wednesday as the date to begin allowing non-EU travelers to return, even as Portugal and Sweden, both members, and Britain, which is treated as a member until the end of the year, still grapple with serious outbreaks.
Others, such as Germany, are seeing new localized outbreaks drive up their national caseloads.
Britain was exempt from consideration for the list because of its current EU status, and countries like Spain and France are considering allowing direct flights from Britain to bring in crucial tourism revenue.
The list of safe countries will be reviewed every two weeks to reflect the changing realities of the coronavirus outbreaks in individual nations, officials said, and countries could be added or removed from the list. Experts say the approach is a sensible way to navigate the continent’s reopening as the spread of the virus shifts and ebbs. But it is also bound to create logistical problems for airlines trying to plan routes and could reap uncertainty for would-be travelers.
The full list of the first 15 countries that the EU will open up to consists of Algeria, Australia, Canada, Georgia, Japan, Montenegro, Morocco, New Zealand, Rwanda, Serbia, South Korea, Thailand, Tunisia, Uruguay and China, provided that China also opens up to travelers from the bloc. It also includes four European microstates: Andorra, Monaco, San Marino and the Vatican.
Exceptions are also being made for travelers from countries outside the safe list, including health care workers, diplomats, humanitarian workers, transit passengers, asylum-seekers and students, as well as “passengers traveling for imperative family reasons” and foreign workers whose employment in Europe is deemed essential.
Although travel between the United States and Europe has been severely limited by the earlier lockdown restrictions, exceptions have been made. A regular flight between Newark, New Jersey, and Amsterdam, for example, has shuttled essential travelers such as diplomats and health care professionals and repatriated Europeans from the United States.
The prolonged severance of travel ties between the bloc and the United States has disrupted a critical economic, cultural and diplomatic relationship. Business travelers on both sides of the Atlantic are desperate to resume their visits, couples and families have been split up for months, and the differences between the European and U.S. approaches to combating the pandemic have brought to the fore divergent views on science and policy.
While most European nations went into strict lockdowns early in their outbreaks and have been promoting the wearing of masks and other measures to try to control the resurgence of the illness, the United States has seen a patchwork response, and the number of new cases has continued to balloon.
The different policy approaches and their subsequent results became obvious to officials tasked with drafting the safe list. The benchmark scientific metric used was new cases over the past two weeks per 100,000 people. The average among the 27 EU countries was 16 in mid-June; in the United States, it was 107.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo last week said that the United States and the EU were working together to reopen travel between the two areas.
“We’re working with our European counterparts to get that right,” he told a German Marshall Fund conference last week. “There’s enormous destruction of wealth.”