The European Union (EU) earned the attention of the world when it learned the EU’s “safe countries list” may not include the United States. The safe countries list refers to countries the EU will accept travelers from as its borders are reopened and is being developed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. COVID-19, also referred to as the coronavirus, is a public health threat, so the European Union is establishing standards for restoring some international travel into the 26-member countries.
To determine which countries to include on the EU safe countries list, international countries are assessed based on three criteria. First, the non-EU country should have a virus transmission rate that is at least equal to or less than the average transmission rate in the European Union. Second, the foreign country must have containment measures implemented at their airports and on modes of transportation like airlines. Third, the country must allow European Union travelers to enter.Read More »
Each EU member state makes its own decisions about the people allowed to cross its borders, with the EU Commission providing guidance and recommendations. On May 13, 2020, the Commission recommended a phased approach to allowing internal travel first and eventually allowing travelers to enter who originate from outside. A website called “re-open EU” is available online and enables entering the name of a country to learn about the country’s specific rules and restrictions, like whether a compulsory quarantine for certain travelers is required.
Implementing the next phase of opening borders to designated travelers prompted the effort to develop the safe countries list. As of June 24, 2020, there are two lists being discussed at the EU Commission level. Both lists exclude the United States and countries like Brazil that have a high coronavirus spread rate. The EU borders have been closed to international visitors since the middle of March 2020, so the new safe countries list is meant to address who can cross into any EU country once opened to the world again. The United States banned most EU citizens from entering the country in mid-March and the restrictions remain in place as of June 25, 2020.
Striving to Remain Non-Political
The virus has wreaked economic havoc on most countries, but the EU is determined to make decisions about safe countries non-political and based on scientific measures concerning the spread of the disease. The current benchmark for assessing new infections is the average number of new cases over the prior two weeks per 100,000 people. The EU is currently at 16 per 100,000 people, while the U.S. is at 107 per 100,000 people. Russia and Brazil are not on the safe countries list because their virus transmission rates are 80 and 190 respectively.
Once published, the EU plans on reviewing the safe countries list every two weeks. Based on the safe countries list, the bloc of countries in Europe is planning on reopening boarders on July 1, meaning the list must be published very soon. The chatter on social media and comments on news websites indicate many people believe the ban on Americans travelling into the EU bloc is mostly a political move when, in fact, it is based on a desire to protect public health by keeping the virus transmission rate as low as possible.
What About Economics?
The reality is that millions of Americans visit the EU to do business or to visit its many historic sites as family, so the ban is likely to cause more economic harm. No doubt the EU will remove the United States from the safe countries list as soon as it gets close to a recommended average of new cases of 50 per 100,000, if not sooner.
Also, the EU only makes recommendations to its member countries. Each country can choose to adopt or not adopt the recommendations on the safe countries list. However, the EU Commission officials have already warned the member countries that not adhering to the safe countries list could lead to the reinstitution of internal borders. Currently, EU bloc countries can freely move about within the bloc.
Waiting for a Decision
Until the safe countries list is finalized, no one will know for sure which countries are excluded. An issue with the safe countries list is that the accuracy of the virus-related statistics can be skewed by a number of factors, including any country falsifying data. The U.S. State Department is currently discussing alternatives with the European Union, like designating restrictions by U.S. regions that are hot spots. Right now, it is a wait-and-see situation for Americans and European.