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2020-06-12 17:19
Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the European Commission has proposed to extend the ban on entry into the EU for citizens from third countries until June 30, and from July 1 to begin to open external borders, but not with all countries. The European Commission presented its recommendations on this issue on Thursday, June 11.

According to the European Commission, from June 15 all restrictions on travel within the Schengen area should be removed. "Following the abolition of control at the internal borders of the EU, we offer a clear and flexible approach to removing restrictions on travel to the EU starting July 1," said EU Commissioner for Home Affairs Ylva  Johansson, presenting the recommendations of the European Commission,  DW reports.

However, due to the fact that the situation with COVID-19 is much  worse in many countries outside the EU, the EU will open its external  borders gradually. "At this stage, the general lifting of restrictions on non-essential trips to the EU + zone is impossible," the recommendations of the European Commission noted.  The so-called "EU + zone" includes 26 EU countries that are members of the Schengen  zone, as well as four states associated with Schengen:  Iceland,  Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland.

On July 1, they plan to open the entrance to the Schengen zone for a limited number of countries.  The list of these countries is planned to be created before June 30.  YIva Johansson specified that the European Commission will hold its first consultations with EU states on June 11.  In the meantime, the European Commission has recommended listing six countries of the Western Balkans: Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo, Montenegro, Northern Macedonia and Serbia,  because the epidemiological situation in them is similar or even  better than in the EU. Other countries, including Russia, were not mentioned in the recommendations or during the Johansson's press conference.

Now the EU is working on a website where you can see which countries are listed. Brussels stresses that it should be common for all  Schengen countries. However, the European Commissioner could not clarify the date when the website will work.  Brussels proposed to  use three groups of criteria on which lifting of travel restrictions  at external borders should be based.

Restrictions on travel should be lifted first with third countries that have a comparable or better epidemiological situation as the  average in the EU+ area, and where sufficient capabilities are in  place. This would require that the available data for a third country  is sufficiently robust to allow decisions to be made. Travel  restrictions should not be lifted as regards third countries where  the situation is worse as the average in the EU+ area. 5 Key criteria  to be assessed in relation to a third country include: the number of  new infections per 100,000 population; trend in new infection rate;  and  the country's overall response to COVID-19.

The second criteria relates to the application of containment  measures during travel, including physical distancing while building  and maintaining trust: A precondition to lifting travel restrictions  is the ability to ensure that containment measures, such as physical  distancing, will be respected throughout a journey, from origin to  destination, including during any possible transit via high-risk  areas. 

The third one is reciprocity and travel advice: Many third countries  have also introduced travel restrictions to citizens coming from the  EU. In order to have an equal treatment for EU citizens, the third  country should also lift travel restrictions towards the EU in order  to have the same or comparable travel arrangements with the EU. This should apply to all EU and Schengen States; it cannot be applied  selectively.

To enter the list, the country will have to meet all three groups of criteria. The list will be regularly reviewed. Ilva Johansson expressed hope that it would only replenish. But if the country on  the list ceases to meet the criteria due to a new outbreak of  coronavirus, the borders will be closed again for it.  Now, because  of the pandemic, only non-essential trips to the EU are prohibited.  This means that citizens of countries in this zone, as well as people  who have permission to live in them, can return to Schengen. From July 1, for third-country nationals on the list, they plan to remove restrictions on all trips. But the European Commission warned that EU states may demand self-isolation from all arrivals.  The European  Commission also considers as essential the trips, of seasonal workers  or transport employees. From the beginning of July, it is proposed to  expand this list to include students and highly qualified workers if  their work cannot be performed remotely or postponed to a later time.   In the fight against the spread of coronavirus, most EU states have  suspended the issuance of visas for non-essential trips. In May, EU  countries issued only two percent of the usual number of visas issued   in one month.  Now the European Commission is advising "as soon as possible" to resume issuing visas in countries with which they will open borders. Ideally, consulates of all countries in the Schengen   area should open simultaneously.  In Brussels, checking the state of human health at the time of applying for a visa is considered useless, since the trip itself is made later. The European Commission also recommended that visa departments and agencies observe hygiene  measures, accept visitors only by appointment, and reduce physical  contacts between their employees and applicants to a minimum. For example, fingerprints can be read no more than once every 59 months.