Yesterday the European Commission presented a proposal for the gradual reopening of the European Union's internal borders in the current context of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Brussels stresses that free movement and cross-border travel are key to the resumption of tourism. It, therefore, argues that general movement restriction measures should be replaced by more specific and targeted measures in Member States where the spread of the virus is controlled.
The European Commission proposes three criteria for lifting restrictions which should be analyzed by countries in the European Union: 'epidemiological', 'ability to implement containment measures' and 'economic and social considerations'.
As for the first criterion, Member States should be guided by the regional map developed by the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control and focus on areas where the situation is improving.
The ability to implement containment measures is identified by Brussels as an essential criterion. These measures must be effective all the way, including at border posts, provide additional safeguards and ensure physical spacing even in more complex situations.
Finally, it argues that priority should be given to the cross-border movement in key areas of activity and include personal reasons.
Brussels also argues that if health conditions do not permit a general lifting of restrictions on movement throughout the European area, a phased and coordinated approach should be adopted. The proposal suggests opening the borders between countries with similar epidemiological situations, but reiterates that 'this does not only concern neighbouring Member States'.
Respect for the principle of non-discrimination is one of the major concerns of the European Commission, which states that 'when a Member State decides to lift its restrictions on movement to and from another Member State, or with regard to regions or areas in any of those Member States, this should apply, without discrimination, to all EU citizens and to all residents of that Member State, regardless of their nationality, and to all parts of the Union in a similar epidemiological situation'. This is a warning in response to the intention of some countries to open their borders only to citizens of a certain nationality.
The European Commission proposes to lift the restrictions in a gradual and organized manner in three stages:
Phase 0 (currently): "Member States should also allow workers, in particular transport, frontier workers, posted and seasonal workers and service providers to cross borders and have free access to their place of work, especially for essential services and the crossing of goods".
Step 1: Travel restrictions and border controls should be gradually lifted across the EU, starting between regions, areas and Member States with a sufficiently similar and positively evolving epidemiological situation". During this phase "good transit for professional and personal reasons as well as for tourism should be facilitated".
Step 2: "all restrictions and controls related to the coronavirus at the internal borders should be lifted while maintaining the necessary sanitary measures". "Travel for all purposes must be permitted throughout the territory of the Union".
Brussels requests flexibility from Member States and does not rule out the possibility of reintroducing new restrictions if the epidemiological situation so warrants. It also warns that these measures are addressed to the entire territory of the European Union, whether or not they are included in the Schengen area.
Once the process of opening the internal borders of the Union has been completed, the Commission will consider opening up the European area to non-essential travel from third countries.
These proposals are included in the package of recommendations for the gradual recovery of transport and tourism in the European Union and come about 2 months after the closure of borders implemented to contain the spread of the Covid-19 pandemic.