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Despite Whitelist, Some EU Countries Are Keeping Borders Closed


EU countries may have last month approved a whitelist of 15 countries who could enter the bloc starting July 1st, but in practice many countries have decided they will still not let them in.

The list, which includes Canadian, Australian, Japanese and Korean residents, was adopted by a weighted majority vote of the 27 EU national governments. But even countries that voted for the list have opted not to let all 15 countries in. Belgium, for instance, is still not letting in any non-EU-residents. Germany, Spain and Poland have only opened to some of the countries on the list.

The result has been confusion at borders, with stories of Canadians flying to France and being turned away at immigration, despite the French tourism minister saying they were welcome.

“These diverging national approaches are hurting our single market and will slow down aviation and tourism’s much needed recovery”, says Thomas Reynaert, managing director of aviation industry association Airlines for Europe (A4E). “The situation is also creating an uneven playing field within Europe at a time when our sector is still struggling for survival.”

The list was intended as a consensus of which countries ‘can’ be let in based on their similar new infection levels to the EU’s. But it doesn’t mean that EU countries ‘must’ let them in. The more serious infraction would be if an EU country started allowing in residents of a country not on the list, for instance Americans. Because the EU’s Schengen Area has passport-free travel within the bloc, EU countries need to trust each other to keep the external border secure. Though many internal EU borders were closed during the peak of the outbreak, they reopened for the most part last month.

According to EU sources, there is worry that if countries are not respecting the list in terms of letting those included in, the next step could be letting in people not included. This would spark a diplomatic crisis, particularly if any country starting letting in residents of the worst-affected countries like Brazil, Russia and the United States.

Even if that red line isn’t crossed, Europe’s airlines say governments are already not following the spirit of what was agreed and are causing confusion which will put off travellers. They had pleaded with national EU governments not to repeat the chaos seen in March when countries unilaterally started closing national borders without coordinating with each other. Several leaders, including Germany’s Angela Merkel, have acknowledged that this was a mistake.

“We can’t afford to exit the situation as chaotically as we entered it,” says Olivier Jankovec, Director General at airports industry association ACI EUROPE. “EU countries are not sticking to their own agreed plan. This is not conducive to consumer confidence and it is clearly undermining efforts to restore air connectivity”.

Annual losses for the global aviation sector are projected to total €82 billion in 2020, making it the worst year in aviation history. Europe’s airlines are projected to lose €19 billion and are among the top three worst affected regions, according to A4E. The latest revenue forecast for Europe’s airports shows them losing €32.44 billion in 2020.

“Continued uncertainty about travel restrictions, quarantines, and the pandemic’s evolution will affect consumer confidence in the foreseeable future, making a harmonised and coordinated approach to the reopening of borders even more imperative,” A4E says. 

Travellers are advised to contact the EU country they intend to travel to to get the latest update on travel restrictions, and to not assume they can enter just because their country of residence has been included on the EU whitelist.

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