The European Commission on Friday asked Interior Ministers of the Twenty-seven to lift all border controls within the EU at the end of this month at the latest, Interior Commissioner Ylva Johansson confirmed to this newspaper. Brussels considers that, in a context of general improvement in the health situation, restrictions are no longer an effective method to combat the pandemic. And he believes that the cons of keeping the continent compartmentalized far outweigh the pros: they are a drag on the economy, have a high personal cost in separating families and friends, and attempt against the very essence of a community project based on freedom circulation. Third-country travelers will not wait much longer, the intention is for bans to gradually be lifted from the beginning of July.
In the early stages of the pandemic, Europe fell back on its borders in a cascade of unilateral and compulsive movements. With the virus spreading without brake, several countries chose to close the doors to neighbors without order or agreement. The urgent medical equipment languished on the roads while deficiencies in hospitals forced the toilets to improvise. The rows of stuck trucks resurrected images that seemed banished in the Schengen era. “When the pandemic suddenly came upon us, the Member States reacted very uncoordinately and with some panic,” acknowledges Ylva Johansson (Huddinge, 56) in an interview with three European media, including EL PAÍS.
The Swedish commissioner compares the behavior of capitals with that of citizens who scared to supermarkets in search of pasta and toilet paper to store during confinement. And he wants the reaction of viscera and emotions in the closing to derive in a rational and coordinated opening. “It is very important that we remember what happened at the beginning of the crisis so as not to fall into the same chaos when opening again.”
After the meeting of ministers, she has been hopeful that they will not extend internal controls beyond June 30. “I personally believe that we will return to a fully functioning Schengen area with free movement of citizens by the end of June at the latest.” But for that there are still pieces to fit in the puzzle. Several Member States have indicated in the Council that they are not yet in a position to ensure this step. Only nine countries (Italy, Greece, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, Malta, the Netherlands, Slovenia and Sweden) make up the outpost of those who do not carry out border controls right now. Five others, Germany and France among them, have set June 15 as the date to once again allow flows from abroad. And five more will only partially reopen the borders that day. Spain, one of the most dependent on tourism, will end the controls on July 1.
To the relief of the punished hospitality sector, the optimism for the summer is evident, but there are unknowns to be solved. Following the recommendations of the European Commission to authorize entry only to citizens of regions in a similar epidemiological phase, Denmark and Norway maintain their veto on Swedish tourism, where covid-19 has hit with much greater power due to its controversial strategy of do not confine the population. Brussels understands that differential treatment now, but does not support its extension beyond June. The same is true of the United Kingdom, a major tourist issuer, another country where the virus is more active for taking delayed action.
The Community Executive does not want discrimination based on nationality, and relies on the opinions of the European Center for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) to support its thesis of the total reopening. “Health authorities are clear that there is no longer any justification for air or border restrictions in the Schengen area,” Johansson said on Friday.
The agency noted a few days ago that “the available evidence does not support recommending border closings that would cause significant side effects and social and economic disruption.” Does that mean that it was a mistake to close them at the time? “It would not use the word error. What happened in mid-March was that the Member States made drastic decisions in a short period of time. It is not my role to say that they did it wrong, that should be evaluated, “says Johansson.
With the pandemic losing steam in Europe, he believes the time has come for social distance measures and the use of face masks to suffice on their own, without the need for a bolt. And it does not even see the return of borders justified in the event of the dreaded second wave.
The informal videoconference meeting of ministers will also address the situation of external borders, closed since mid-March. The restriction on non-essential routes for third-country travelers expires on June 15 after having been extended several times, and everything indicates that the period will be extended again. Just as EU partners do not authorize the entry of European tourists as long as their citizens cannot move freely between provinces, Brussels is not in favor of allowing the entry of travelers from the United States or Japan before a Berliner can go to Lisbon or a Milanese to Vienna. “We must first open the internal borders”, ditch Johansson.
The rebound in cases in Latin America, the new epicenter of the disease, complicates taking the step, but Brussels is in favor of not delaying it too long. The solution could be to not open to all countries at the same time and choose to do so gradually, with certain restrictions on passengers in the most affected areas.
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