US visitors set to remain banned from entering EU

Agreed shortlist of permitted countries also excludes Russia, Brazil and India

Tourists at the Eiffel Tower in Paris

Tourists at the Eiffel Tower in Paris. At the height of the pandemic, member states had been advised non-essential travel from outside the EU should not be permitted.
Photograph: Thomas Samson/AFP/Getty Images

Most visitors from the US are set to remain banned from entering the European Union because of the country’s rising infection rate in a move that risks antagonising Donald Trump.

In an attempt to save the European tourism season, a list of 15 countries from where people should be allowed into the EU from 1 July has been agreed by representatives of the 27 member states.

Travellers from China will be among those permitted entry if Beijing reciprocates despite doubts over the accuracy of the information coming out of the country.

The other countries from where the EU agrees travel should be permitted into the bloc are Algeria, Australia, Canada, Georgia, Japan, Montenegro, Morocco, New Zealand, Rwanda, Serbia, South Korea, Thailand, Tunisia and Uruguay.

Visitors from the US, Russia, Brazil and India, where infection rates remain high, are set to remain excluded despite the initial arguments of some EU governments which would like to have offered further help in keeping the tourism industry afloat.

At the height of the pandemic in mid-March, the European commission had advised member states that non-essential travel from outside the EU should not be permitted.

The list, which will be updated every two weeks, is only advisory and EU member states can deviate if they wish. But the capitals have been warned of the dangers if they go their own way and expand the number of countries from where travel is permitted.

Despite leaving the EU on 31 January, the UK has been treated as a member state as it remains part of the bloc’s single market. But while Brussels has been keen to coordinate with the British government, Downing Street has not been involved in the EU’s internal deliberations and the bloc’s conclusions on who can travel to the bloc are not legally binding.

The EU’s member states had procrastinated for days over relaxing travel restrictions and was split between those wary of ditching the progress made in containing coronavirus, including the Netherlands, whose Schiphol airport is a key hub, and countries such as Italy, Cyprus and Portugal, which are determined to make the most of the summer season.

During the prolonged negotiations, Greece had suggested it would unilaterally reopen to the US, according to EU sources. The Greek government has since agreed to comply with the joint decision.

A qualified majority in support of reopening to the 15 selected countries was achieved when the Spanish government, wary of a second wave in Europe, moved from being sceptical about the length of the list to backing it on economic grounds.

EU diplomats said travellers from European “micro-states” such as Andorra, Vatican City, Monaco and San Marino will also be given the green light.

The approved countries have been selected on the basis of the reliability of their data, infection rates and reciprocity.

A key threshold is the EU average infection rate of around 16 per 100,000 inhabitants, with only those countries with comparable or better rates considered for inclusion.

“There is a treaty-based obligation to ensure coordination in order not to put at risk the functioning of the Schengen area,” an advisory document circulated among the member states says. “While a more restrictive approach would not endanger, as such, the functioning of the Schengen area, a less restrictive approach than the one coordinated at EU+ area level could entail such a risk.”

Spain’s foreign minister, Arancha González Laya, told Spain’s Cadena SER radio: “This is not an exercise to be nice or unfriendly to other countries, this is an exercise of self-responsibility.”

Individual EU member states are able to impose their own travel restrictions on the UK based on scientific advice. The Irish government has also said it will maintain a 14-day quarantine given the UK’s high infection rate and Greece is maintaining a ban on flights from Britain.