Diplomacy and politics vs Science – Europe’s travel re-opening debate

epa08523395 One passenger checks the departures screen in Barcelona's Josep Tarradellas' airport Terminal 1 in Barcelona, Spain, 02 July 2020. Barcelona's airport is increasing its activity after the EU council agreed to lift travel restrictions on 15 countries from 01 July 2020. EPA-EFE/Alejandro García

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Diplomacy and politics took a central role in the issue of travel restrictions and re-opening at EU level.

But was it a safe way?

The list of where countries could travel was based on a decision, taken via written procedure and by a qualified majority vote — in which Poland, Bulgaria, Austria and Portugal abstained in frustration, and Denmark and Ireland opted out using exemptions under the EU treaties — avoided a potentially humiliating failure for the EU just as the bloc’s rotating presidency is being handed off to Germany from Croatia. Around 20 countries supported the decision.

The list notably excluded the United States, where infections are still rising uncontrolled, but added China as a 15th nation, literally with an asterisk. Inbound travel will be permitted “subject to confirmation of reciprocity,” reads the footnote. Travelers from China can enter only if Beijing lifts its own restrictions on the EU.

POLITICO reports that “politics infected the EU’s debate over coronavirus travel restrictions — but members of the club recovered and reached a deal Tuesday to reopen their external borders to a select list of countries. After a pitched and prolonged battle among diplomats that stretched late into Friday night and through the weekend, the Council of the EU on Tuesday agreed to recommend lifting the bloc’s ban on travelers from 14 nations beginning Wednesday.”

“We injected politics into science,” one diplomat said. “If it had only been for science we would open up only to Canada, South Korea, Australia and New Zealand … It’s a calculated risk.”

The finalized list ended up less the product of a scientific formula than a balance of national interests.

What have EU countries agreed?

The EU has agreed to open much of the European Common Travel Area to some non-EU citizens from Wednesday, July 1. The EU has also decided that the countries it will open up to will be determined by their record of handling the spread of the coronavirus. In particular, whether the country’s infection rate is similar or lower to the EU’s average; whether that rate is going up or down; the country’s overall capacity to deal with the virus (judging on its contract-tracing efforts and its health care system); and the reliability of the data it provides. The list will be updated every two weeks based on new data.

Who will be able to travel to Europe?

The list covers 15 countries: Algeria, Australia, Canada, Georgia, Japan, Montenegro, Morocco, New Zealand, Rwanda, Serbia, South Korea, Thailand, Tunisia, Uruguay and China. But the EU also wants reciprocity from the countries — particularly China — that it opens to. China is still closed to nonessential travel from Europe, and it is unlikely EU countries will open to Chinese citizens if China doesn’t do the same for Europeans after governments singled out reciprocity from China as essential. That may not be the case for other countries.

Will that happen immediately from July 1?

Ideally yes but national capitals ultimately have the authority over when they reopen and to whom. Ireland isn’t in the Schengen area and is exempted from the recommendations. Denmark has special status that gives it an additional six months to implement the recommendations. Differences in opening up could complicate Europe’s internal borders. If Denmark is closed and Germany is open, theoretically non-EU travelers could arrive in Germany and go on to Denmark across an open border.

Read More on POLITICO 

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