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A quieter-than-usual terminal at JFK Airport in New York. (Photo: AirlineGeeks | Tom Pallini)

European Commission Sets Out Proposals to Open Borders to Tourism

The European Commission is offering hope that summer holiday travel between member states will be possible for tourism by inviting countries ‘to engage in a process of re-opening unrestricted cross-border movement within the Union.’ For the purposes of the recommendations, the commission has defined the region covered by the package as ‘all EU Member States – whether or not they are part of the Schengen area – as well as all Schengen Associated countries’.

The commission’s announcement on Wednesday of the ‘Tourism and Transport Package’ set out three criteria for consideration in relation to any relaxation of the current restrictions in place across the continent. The first criteria for member states to meet to ease border restrictions is that Covid-19 rates are ‘improving’ by standards set by the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control. Second, member states must be able to apply containment measures throughout a traveler’s complete journey in terms of social distancing and hygiene. Finally, cross-border movements should prioritize those involving health, social and economic activity.

Specifically addressing the airline industry, the commission acknowledged that risk of exposure on aircraft to the virus could not be eliminated but only mitigated against. It is suggesting the use of face masks and improved hygiene measures as well as reducing interactions onboard. The impairment of airlines to improve revenue by implementing social distancing measures onboard were not outlined by the commission. Instead, the commission advised of ‘forthcoming health and safety protocol that is being developed by the European Union Aviation Safety Agency and European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control will specify additional risk mitigation measures to address physical distancing on board.’

To assist the re-introduction of tourism into the region the commission is clear in the proposal that no member state should be discriminated against by which if any other member state meets the criteria offered to one country then they shall also be party to any lifting of restrictions. This issue has been the cause of concern and confusion this week when the U.K. government announced that France would be exempt from any 14 day quarantine period required for inbound travel to the U.K. at this stage if such a measure was introduced.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson originally announced on Sunday night that only passengers arriving by air would be subject to the possible U.K. quarantine measures. The government clarified after the P.M.’s speech that any measures introduced would be applied to arrivals into the country from all forms of transport. Given that channel crossings from France on the Eurostar and Channel Tunnel alone totaled 21.5 million passenger journeys in 2018 and ferry crossings just under 20 million in the same year, any restrictions would have a significant impact on travel between France and the U.K.

The European Commission has been critical of the proposed arrangement between the U.K and France signaling to Mr. Johnson that legal action would be taken if the exemption was not extended to other E.U. member states meeting the same Covid-19 risk profile.  Even though the U.K. has formally left the European Union, freedom of movement is still allowed under the transition agreement in place until the end of 2020. In an unusual turn of events support for the government’s exemption for travelers from France came from those who championed Brexit and the tightening of the U.K’s borders. The Telegraph quoted former Conservative party leader Iain Duncan Smith as saying, “So what? We make the judgment about what works for the greater safety of people in the UK, not them.”

The U.K. government were required to make a further clarification on Wednesday with a spokesperson for the Prime Minister saying: “If you look at what was actually said in the joint statement on Sunday night, it said no quarantine measures apply to France at this stage and the keywords in that sentence are ‘at this stage’.”

Concern and confusion over border restrictions and quarantine requirements are a hurdle that airlines will need to overcome to stimulate passenger demand for summer holidays. However, with the European Commission addressing the situation and airlines beginning to announce schedules for July and August there is definite hope that more aircraft will be flying in European skies in the coming months.

John Flett
John Flett
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