EU Targets ‘Cacophony’ of Travel Rules to Avoid Border Curbs

European Union regulators pushed to reduce the risk of internal travel disruptions resulting from coronavirus-induced border closures.

In a sign of concern that a resurgence of the pandemic could trigger renewed barriers to cross-border movement within the 27-nation bloc, the European Commission outlined ways for EU governments to cooperate more closely over travel restrictions.

“Our right to move freely in the EU has been heavily impacted by the pandemic,” EU Justice Commissioner Didier Reynders said on Friday in Brussels. “For the many citizens who rely on frictionless travel every day, the cacophony of national rules in the EU is overwhelming. We want to simplify things.”

The pandemic has forced EU regulators into a political balancing act between respecting member countries’ responsibility for health policy and protecting the bloc’s principle of free movement of people.

Airlines have been vocal critics of the patchwork of national approaches in the EU to curbing the Covid-19 pandemic. Deutsche Lufthansa AG would like more regulatory consistency and predictability, spokesman Helmut Tolksdorf said on Friday.

The initiative by the commission, the EU’s executive arm, needs the approval of member-country governments. It would amount to a non-binding recommendation covering their actions in the field of health and travel.

The commission said it hoped for approval by EU governments “in the coming weeks.” Health Minister Jens Spahn of Germany, which as holder of the bloc’s rotating presidency will be in charge of brokering a deal, gave no timeline, but said it was important that there was general consensus in the group.

“The virus knows no border and therefore, in combating it, we should have no borders either,” Spahn said in a news conference.

Specifically, the commission recommended:

  • common criteria and thresholds for member countries when deciding whether to impose travel restrictions
  • a map of common criteria using an agreed color code
  • a joint framework for measures applied to travelers from high-risk areas
  • “clear and timely” information to the public about any restrictions

The commission proposed that each EU government weighing restrictions take into account the total number of newly notified Covid-19 cases per 100,000 people in a given area over a 14-day period; the percentage of positive results from all Covid-19 tests carried out in a given area during a seven-day period; and the number of tests carried out per 100,000 people in a given area during a seven-day period.

On the color code, the commission recommended four categories: green, orange, red and gray.

The commission said that people traveling from an area classified as “red” or “gray” should either face a quarantine period or take a Covid-19 test after arrival, with testing being the preferred option.

©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

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