EU envoys debate coronavirus travel bans as deadline approaches

European Commission officials have been working with Member States to report which visitors could be considered safe to visit since July 1, when the EU plans to reopen its borders.

But the 27 member states have not yet agreed on the criteria that will be used to develop the guide that will apply to the 104 countries with which the EU has visa agreements, including the United States.

EU diplomats who spoke to CNN insisted that the criteria would be based on health considerations, not political.

The New York Times reported Tuesday that Americans may not be able to travel to the European bloc when it reopens its borders. The newspaper said it had seen drafts of lists of countries deemed acceptable or not, depending on their coronavirus status.

However, multiple sources told CNN that they had not seen draft country-specific lists.

“We have not established the final objective criteria, so the first list of countries has not been written. It does not exist. We have certain data, but there is no list,” an EU official told CNN on Thursday.

“The objective criterion should be applied equally to one hundred or more third countries, so it was never a single country.”

The United States has the highest number of deaths and infections from coronavirus in the world. As of Thursday night, at least 2,422,299 had been infected in the country and 124,410 people had died, according to the Johns Hopkins University Coronavirus Resource Center.

Coordinated approach

Discussions continued in European capitals the Friday before the ambassadors’ meeting as EU member states grapple with thorny issues, such as how to handle restrictions on non-EU countries that have a travel agreement bilateral with an EU member state, such as Brazil with Portugal.

Questions have also been raised about how to assess the testing and tracking regimes of certain countries, and the reliability of their data.

A European ban on American travelers would send a humiliating message

The recommendations made by the European Commission are not binding; Decisions about whether to open the borders and how to do it are up to each state.

But European Commission spokesman Adalbert Jahnz said it was essential that EU member states take a united approach when borders are reopened.

“Indeed, it is essential for the effectiveness of this travel restriction, as well as for the integrity of the Schengen area, that Member States act together in this regard,” he said.

“We have seen a very strong political commitment on the part of the member states to continue acting in a coordinated manner on this issue.”

When asked earlier this week if the United States was on a list of countries of origin that could be banned from traveling to Europe, an EU diplomat directed CNN to the first item on a 9/11 checklist. June published by the European Commission on what to consider when allowing travelers in the EU.

The first item on the checklist asks whether the country can be “considered as in a comparable or better epidemiological situation as the average in the EU + area” with respect to the number of new infections, the trend of new infections and the response in areas such as testing, surveillance, contact tracing, containment, treatment and reporting.

A second EU diplomat insisted that there was no political aspect to the criteria discussed.

“It is only about health. Without a doubt, you can see that not being on the list as something political, when one country is allowed and another is not, but this is a misrepresentation of what we are doing. We are looking to open our borders, this it is a positive step, “said the diplomat.

“There are 27 countries sitting around the table that have many different opinions, they focus on objective criteria, as the criteria must be applied uniformly.

“If you take the United States, as I know there is already a lot of interest from the New York Times article, if you look exactly at the criteria since June 11, then we can’t open our border to the United States, but we can’t open our borders to other countries too. “

The diplomat hoped that progress could be made in the latest talks, as the July 1 deadline is approaching.

“The ambassadors will meet this Friday and see how far they can go. Hopefully we get a little closer.”

US tariffs are not a factor

Reciprocity is another consideration under the June 11 guidelines.

Earlier this year, the United States severely restricted travel from large parts of Europe due to concerns about the coronavirus.
Chocolates, olives and 28 other European items could be affected with $ 3.1 billion in new US tariffs.

In response to a journalist’s question Thursday, Eric Mamer, chief spokesman for the European Commission, said the United States’ measures to apply new tariffs on EU goods would not influence the deliberations.

“Our internal process is obviously related to considerations based on health criteria. Everything else, in terms of the decisions that the United States could make or not, is speculation that we will not enter. And in any case, it will not influence our internal process “.

United States Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Wednesday that the United States had been working with European nations on the best way to reopen travel.

“It is important that the United States give Europeans the ability to travel back to the United States. It is important, very important that Europeans also fully reconnect with the American economy. I think the leaders of those two places understand the importance of this, “he said during a briefing by the State Department.

Among the options being discussed are travel restrictions based on the geographic regions of the US, rather than a widespread ban across the country, as some regions have higher infection rates than others, two officials said. from the EU to CNN.