BRUSSELS – EU countries are expected to adopt guidelines next week aimed at coordinating their various coronavirus travel policies, according to EU officials and diplomats involved in the talks. However, efforts will lag far behind on regulatory harmonization as countries seek to maintain control over how to prevent the disease from recurring.
The guidelines are designed to make travel restrictions such as quarantine and testing rules within the block smoother and more predictable. This would be a first step towards restoring one of the union’s most important principles: the free movement of people on its territory.
Representatives of the 27 members of the European Union, together with representatives of the European Commission, the executive branch of the bloc, discussed for weeks how common criteria can be used to assess regional responses to the coronavirus.
The focus is on the introduction of a single card, using colors to indicate the extent of the breakouts around the block: green at the bottom of the risk, orange in the middle, and red at the top. Other measures include standardizing the way quarantines and testing are carried out to make traveling between EU countries easier, and ensuring a comprehensive warning when national travel warnings change to ensure travelers are not stranded.
Traveling in the block, the most integrated group of countries in the world, has become increasingly difficult and complicated in the face of the pandemic. Each country has its own assessment of the situation in other countries, its own rules for travel measures and constantly changing requirements for testing and quarantine.
“Citizens are badly affected by the travel restrictions imposed across the European Union,” Didier Reynders, EU Justice Commissioner, said in a statement. “I now urge all EU ministers to quickly agree on a coordinated and simple approach, including: an EU-wide map, common criteria and clear information on a weekly basis.”
According to the guidelines, which are expected to be approved by EU ministers on Tuesday, members will adopt a regional map drawn up by the European Center for Disease Prevention and Control, instead of producing 27 individual maps.
In fact, this will only matter when it comes to green areas or regions within EU countries that pose a low risk to travelers. National authorities will remain free to make their own rules on orange and red zones based on recommendations from their own experts, EU officials said.
The text, which has been reviewed by the Times, includes criteria for color-coding a region, with an emphasis on thresholds for new cases per 100,000 people and positive test results as a percentage of total tests. The European Center for Disease Prevention and Control collects much of this data from national agencies.
While EU countries will agree to warn 48 hours of travel restrictions change in response to worsening Covid-19 conditions – such as additional quarantine or testing requirements – they will not harmonize the requirements for travelers.
For example, a traveler from Belgium, who is considered a red zone in the entire block due to its very high infection rate, has different restrictions when visiting Germany than when visiting Greece. This will continue to be the case even after the proposal is adopted.
The block will remain largely closed to non-essential travelers from the United States as well as most of the rest of the world.
Officials said the short list of nations from which travelers are allowed to enter the European Union, which now includes Canada and New Zealand, could be revised this month. However, they added that it was virtually certain that travelers from the United States would not be joining at this point as the country is inadequate to contain the pandemic.
But new cases have also surfaced across the European Union, and only a few regions in the block are actually marked as green under the new criteria.
In France, the number of daily cases rose to over 18,000 this week, which resulted in significant restrictions on public gatherings in some regions.
In Belgium, bars and cafes in Brussels have been closed.
And in Spain, which is currently having one of the worst new coronavirus cases in the European Union, the government is considering putting the Madrid region into a state of emergency in response to a surge in cases.
The EU institutions have found it difficult to persuade individual governments to adopt a common approach, leading to a cacophony of measures that disrupt the flow of people for work or family purposes and cause heavy losses in the tourism and transport sectors.
Health and related policy is fully sovereign for the bloc countries. The union does not have a legal basis on which to impose policies on its members, as it does on matters such as money or competition.
When drawing up national Covid-19 travel policies, EU members have in some cases taken into account non-health related factors such as: B. maintaining relationships with their neighbors and being open to large tourism markets.
Hungary, for example, announced in September that it would block itself to travel from all EU countries except its political allies, the Visegrad countries, Slovakia, the Czech Republic and Poland, without the decision being justified by health criteria.
EU officials called the move a violation of the principles of free movement and non-discrimination within the bloc.
Monika Pronczuk contributed to the reporting.