By James Frater, Vasco Cotovio and Laura Smith-Spark | CNN
Travelers from the United States are “unlikely” to be allowed into the European Union, as ambassadors of the 27 members states have agreed “in principle” to criteria as the bloc begins to open up to international travel, several EU diplomats told CNN on Friday.
The agreement is not final, as the ambassadors will need to consult with their respective governments.
Under the current criteria — which, among other parameters, takes into account the number of coronavirus cases per 100,000 people in the past 14 days — US travelers would likely be excluded.
The development was first reported by The New York Times.
The US has the highest number of coronavirus deaths and infections in the world. As of Friday afternoon, at least 2.4 million had been infected in the country and 124,891 people had died, according to the Johns Hopkins University Coronavirus Resource Center.
An EU diplomat told CNN that it was very “unlikely” travelers from the US would be allowed in, adding that even though the list had not been finalized “the US’s chances are close to zero.” The diplomat also said, “with their infection rates … not even they can believe in that possibility.”
A new meeting on the matter will take place on Monday.
Officials at the European Commission have been working with member states on advising which visitors might be considered safe to visit from July 1, when the EU plans to reopen its borders.
But the 27 member states have yet to formally agree on the criteria to be used to draw up the guidance that will be applied to the 104 countries with which the EU has visa arrangements, including the United States.
EU diplomats who spoke to CNN insisted that the criteria would be based on health, not political, considerations.
The New York Times reported on Tuesday that Americans might not be able to travel to the European bloc when it reopens its borders. The paper said it had seen draft lists of countries considered acceptable or not, based on their coronavirus situation.
However, multiple sources told CNN that they had not seen draft lists of specific countries.
“We have not set the final objective criteria so the first list of countries has not been written. It does not exist. We have data for sure, but there is no list,” one EU official told CNN on Thursday.
“The objective criteria has to be applied equally to a hundred or more third countries, so it was never about one country.”
Discussions continued in European capitals Friday ahead of the ambassadors’ meeting as EU member states wrestle with thorny issues, such as how to handle restrictions on non-EU countries which have a bilateral travel arrangement with an EU member state, such as Brazil with Portugal.
Questions over how to assess certain countries’ testing and tracing regimes, and the reliability of their data, have also been raised.
Recommendations made by the European Commission are not mandatory — decisions on whether and how to open up borders are matters for individual states.
But European Commission spokesman Adalbert Jahnz said it was essential for EU member states to take a united approach when borders reopen.
“It is indeed essential for the effectiveness of this travel restriction as well as for the integrity of the Schengen area that member states act together on this,” he said.
“We have seen a very strong political commitment from member states to continue acting in a coordinated way on this issue.”
When asked earlier this week whether the US was on a list of origin countries that might be barred from travel to Europe, one EU diplomat directed CNN to the first point of a June 11 checklist published by the European Commission on what to consider when allowing travelers into the EU.
The first point on the checklist asks whether the country can “be considered as being in a comparable or better epidemiological situation as the average in the EU+ area” with regard to number of new infections, trend of new infections and response in areas such as testing, surveillance, contact tracing, containment, treatment and reporting.
A second EU diplomat insisted there was no political aspect to the criteria being discussed.
“It is only ever about health. For sure, you can see not being on the list as something political, when one country is allowed in and another is not, but this is a misrepresentation of what we are doing. We are looking to open our borders, this is a positive step,” the diplomat said.
“There are 27 countries sitting around the table who are having a lot of different opinions, they are focused on objective criteria, as the criteria need to apply uniformly.
“If you take the US, as I know there is a lot of interest already since the New York Times article, if you look exactly at the criteria since 11 June, then we cannot open our border to the US, but we cannot open our borders to other countries also.”
The diplomat hoped that progress could be made in the latest talks, as the July 1 deadline looms.
US tariffs not a factor
Reciprocity is another consideration under the June 11 guidelines.
Earlier this year, the US severely restricted travel from large parts of Europe due to coronavirus concerns.
Responding to a reporter’s question Thursday, Eric Mamer, chief spokesman for the European Commission, said that moves by the US to apply new tariffs to EU goods would not factor into deliberations.
“Our internal process is related obviously to considerations based on health criteria. All the rest — in terms of what decisions the US might take or not — is speculation that we will not get into. And in any case, it will not influence our internal process.”
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Wednesday that the US had been working with European nations on how best to reopen travel.
“It’s important for the United States to get Europeans the capacity to travel back to the United States. It’s important, very important for the Europeans to fully reconnect with the American economy as well. I think leaders all across those two places understand the importance of this,” he said during a State Department briefing.
Among the options being discussed are travel restrictions based on US geographic regions, rather than a sweeping ban on the entire country, since some regions have higher infection rates than others, two EU officials told CNN.
US Travel Association Reaction
US Travel Association Executive Vice President for Public Affairs and Policy Tori Emerson Barnes issued the following statement, “The EU’s announcement is incredibly disappointing, and a step in the wrong direction as we seek to rebuild our global economy.” The statement goes on to say, “This is unwelcome news, and will have major negative implications for an economic recovery — particularly if this ban results in cycles of retaliation, as is so often the case.”
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