UPDATED: July 2nd, 2020
European Union Member States are gradually beginning to reopen borders to third-country nationals and citizens of the EU as the coronavirus outbreak is brought under control. Tourism will return to several nations in time for summer.
In mid-March, it was announced that external EU borders would be closed to all third-country nationals. The European Commission recommended this action be taken to curb the spread of COVID-19 and help Europe to recover as swiftly as possible.
Ursula von der Leyen, President of the European Commission, delivered a press conference following a video call with members of the G7 group:
“It is important that our healthcare system is able to deal with the number of patients that are severely ill and, therefore, it is of our utmost importance to (...) slow down social context, to slow down public life and to slow down the spread of the virus”
The closure of external borders was followed by the temporary reintroduction of checkpoints within the Schengen Area, only allowing residents access to each country for a limited period of time.
Now, in the beginning of July, a total of 15 non-EU countries made the list of those whose nationals can enter the European Union, although this measure will be revised every 2 weeks by the EU authorities and Member States.
Read on to learn what are these eligible third countries and other measures taken by Europe to tackle the negative consequences of the coronavirus outbreak.
Exceptions to EU Border Closures During Covid-19
Throughout the period of closure, certain groups of travellers have remained exempt from the EU travel restrictions:
- UE citizens coming back to their countries of residence (therefore, the entry restrictions will apply in the EU’s external borders only).
- Healthcare workers, such as doctors and nurses.
- Members of the scientific community working on the solutions for this health crisis.
- Citizens commuting on borders (e.g., workers who need to provide services on both sides of the border).
So-called ‘green corridors’ were also set up to ensure the fast transportation of goods, throughout the region. A maximum of 15 minutes could be spent on cargo vehicle health checks to maintain speedy transportation of essential items.
The document generated by the EU with the border management guidelines specifies the regulation for these special corridors:
Unobstructed transport of goods should be mainly focused on “essential goods such as food supplies including livestock, vital medical and protective equipment and supplies”.
Facilitation of safe movement for transport works, “including truck and train drivers, pilots and aircrew across internal and external borders”.
When Will EU Borders Be Reopened?
Such limitations on travel appear to have been effective in limiting the spread of the virus and Member States are now in the process of reopening, initially to other EU travellers to be followed later by third-country nationals.
The reopening of borders goes hand in hand with the easing of other restrictions in many countries. The Spanish government introduced a 4-phase plan which was completed by the end of June, leading to the ‘new normality’.
Since the middle of May, some international Schengen Area borders have been removed between certain countries. Germany, for example, got rid of border controls with Luxembourg on May 16.
It is expected that many more internal borders will be abolished from June 15th and through July, allowing for movement between EU countries in time for peak season.
Portugal is likely to be the first country to welcome back foreigners from further afield, from July 1st international travellers can enter the country provided they present a negative test result.
The importance of quickly restoring freedom of movement to the European Union
Tourism is important to the economies of many EU countries. For this reason, all Member States are eager to welcome back foreign visitors as soon as possible by ending exceptional EU entry restrictions.
To achieve this, and safeguard freedom of movement, it has been requested that Member States reduce entry restrictions at the same pace as other measures are relaxed.
One suggestion is to take a regional, rather than national, approach, lifting restrictions in areas where the situation has improved sufficiently rather than waiting for an entire nation to reach the same level.
What has been made clear by Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) is that freedom of movement across borders is a priority and should return swiftly. This was expressed by Juan Fernando López Aguillar, Civil Liberties Charis and rapporteur when he stated:
“For the vast majority of EU citizens, the Schengen area constitutes one of the greatest achievements in the history of the EU, and it has never before experienced the outbreak of such a serious pandemic on its territory. I strongly deplore any unilateral or disproportionate measures by individual Member States to impose border restrictions upon other Member States without communication or a clear and limited timeframe. All actions meant to restore a fully operational Schengen area must be coordinated at EU level and fully respect the principle of non-discrimination”.
EU Decides on a List of 15 Safe Countries
European Union Member States have drawn up a list of 15 third countries which they consider to be low risk. From 1st July 2020, travellers from each of the following nations will be able to cross the external EU border following temporary coronavirus restrictions:
- China (subject to a reciprocal agreement)
- New Zealand
- South Korea
The finalised list comes after 5 days of discussions. The UK, Switzerland, Iceland, Liechtenstein, and Norway are automatically considered safe despite not being in the EU.
The territories have been selected based on certain scientific criteria including having a downward trend of cases, sufficient social distancing measures in place and a Covid-19 infection rate of fewer than 16 in every 100,000.
Travellers from the 15 countries must first check with the nation they wish to visit. The EU Member States will decide at what point they begin to allow travellers from some or all the selected safe nations.
The list will be reviewed and updated every 2 weeks by EU authorities.
Financial Measures to Help Post-Covid Recovery
The EU has agreed on an extensive recovery fund to help the Member States hit hardest by the crisis. €540 billion of financial aid was made available from June 1st.
The Coronavirus Response Investment Initiative (CRII) was set up to help EU countries recover from the pandemic by mobilising financial support.
This has been complemented by a new set of measures, Coronavirus Response Investment Initiative Plus (CRII+) which offers additional support in the following areas:
- Flexibility: between funds, regions and topics, full EU co-financing rate
- Protection for the hardest hit: food and basic materials assistance in the form of e-vouchers
- Support for key sectors: farmers, fishermen, and food sectors
Economic initiatives by EU Member States
The established EU economic policy regarding the Coronavirus outbreak highly suggests the creation of national initiatives. These initiatives must work as “automatic stabilizers” that will help to minimise the economic consequences of COVID-19 and include:
- Immediate fiscal spending to contain and treat the disease
- Liquidity support for local companies.
- Short-term work support, extensions of sick pay and/or unemployment benefits for affected workers in order to “avoid employment and income losses”
Team Europe: Assisting Partner Countries Around the World
When it comes to providing financial support and aiding recovery, the EU is not only looking inwards but also to partner countries that have been worst affected by the pandemic, which had resulted in the creation of a European team that channels funds to third nations.
Team Europe was launched on 8th April with the aim of protecting the lives and livelihoods of the people most in need.
Close to 36 billion euros have been made available through this new EU Team. Some examples of how the money will be distributed are as follows:
- 50 million euros have been allocated to Nigeria to help contain the spread of the virus
- 240 million are destined for Jordan and Lebanon for vulnerable households
- 10 million euros for diagnostic labs, test kits and treatment centres in Ethiopia
- 8 million for protective equipment and staff treatment in the Caribbean
The coronavirus pandemic is affecting countries across the world, but for countries without functioning health systems and economic resources, recovery is much more of a challenge. For this reason, the EU is committed to a global response.
Coronavirus Measures Taken by EU Member States: Main Milestones
The main goals of the European Commission during this health crisis are to:
1) ensure enough capacity of the health systems and civil protection systems across Europe so the wellbeing of citizens is preserved 2) protect and help companies and workers that have been affected 3) generate a coordinated response to protect the Member States’ economies.
In accordance with these objectives, many Member States have put in motion a series of measures to protect citizens and the economy from the effects of the COVID-19 over the last few months.
The following is a brief timeline of the main milestones by EU ETIAS countries, as well as other important data related to the spread of the virus worldwide:
- February 21, 2020 — First Covid-19 case is detected in Codogno, province of Lodi, Lombardy (north of Italy)
- March 10, 2020: — Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte declares the ‘red zone’ alert for the entire country
- March 16, 2020 — The government approves 25 billion euros ($28 billion) of spending measures to slow down the spread of the virus
- March 17, 2020 — Current mortality rate: 6,6%. The country is about to reach 30,000 confirmed cases and over 2,000 deaths
- May 12, 2020 — The Italian government approves €55 billion stimulus package
- May 18, 2020 — businesses including bars, restaurants, and shops reopen
- June 3, 2020 — Italy reopens its borders to EU residents and ends travel restrictions
- March 17, 2020 — Emmanuel Macron warns ‘we are at war’ as announces the release of 45 billion euros ($50 billion) to help small businesses and employees struggling with the current health outbreak
- March 19, 2020 — The country closes its borders
- April 14, 2020 — the government increases its support plan to €110 billion
- May 11, 2020 — France begins gradual lifting of lockdown measures
- June 15, 2020 — borders to reopen
- January 31, 2020 — La Gomera, in the Canary Islands, registers the first case of Coronavirus, a citizen of Germany who is isolated and analyzed by healthcare professionals
- February 24, 2020 — The number of cases rapidly grows due to the arrival of infected citizens who recently traveled to Italy
- March 14, 2020 — Pedro Sánchez declares the state of alarm nationwide
- March 17, 2020 — The Council of Ministers presents a package of economic measures to reduce the negative effects provoked by the Covid-19 for a total of 200 billion euro injected into the economy, which represents nearly 20% of Spain’s annual GDP
- May 4, 2020 — 4-phase lifting of lockdown begins
- July 1, 2020 — borders will reopen to EU travellers without quarantine
Internal and External Borders: EU Travel Restrictions
European authorities provided special recommendations when applying EU entry restrictions as a Member State for both internal borders and external borders.
In the case of internal borders during the COVID-19 outbreak, the European Commission and the European Council stated that:
- Member States “may reintroduce temporary border controls if justified for reasons of public policy or internal security." If so, each country had to notify this decision in accordance with the Schengen Borders Code.
- The control measures must be applied "in a proportionate manner" (i.e., without any sort of discrimination bias). For instance, if a person is clearly sick, they should not be refused entry, but they would be subject to special measures.
- Health checks for citizens entering any Member State territory can be made without a formal reintroduction of internal border controls. These health controls should not create greater waiting times and queues, as this would increase the risk of infected people.
In the case of external borders, the EU proposed in mid-March the following temporary measures:
- Every person trying to enter the Schengen Area, EU and non-EU nationals, is subject to systematic checks at border crossing points, which included health checks.
- Member States can refuse entry to non-resident third-country nationals who present Covid-19 symptoms and/or have been exposed to risk conditions.
- Any entry refusal must be proportional and non-discriminatory, “following consultation of the health authorities”. As a guideline, a non-EU citizen who is notified of an entry refusal under these special circumstances must meet the criteria of being considered a public health threat.
- Isolation or quarantine are valid alternative measures to a refusal of entry.
The closure of external borders and reintroduction of internal Schengen Area checkpoints may only occur in exceptional circumstances to protect the security and safety of the region.
The objective of the EU is now to reduce COVID-19 entry restrictions and welcome international travellers back in a gradual and safe manner.