Global report: EU pledges to lift internal border controls by end of month

Jennifer Rankin in Brussels and Jon Henley in Paris
Photograph: Alessandro Crinari/EPA

The EU has pledged to lift border controls inside its territory by the end of the month, while extending a ban on travellers coming from outside the bloc. 

The extension of the ban on non-essential travel by foreign nationals into the EU’s border free-travel zone was approved by the EU’s 27 home affairs ministers on Friday by video conference.

The travel ban, which will be extended until 1 July, had been due to expire on 15 June and applies to all non-EU countries, with exemptions for citizens from EU-associated countries Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland. British travellers also remain exempt from the ban but face two-week quarantine requirements from some European governments. 

The EU’s home affairs commissioner, Ylva Johansson, told journalists that “almost all member states” had expressed “a strong preference for a further but short prolongation” of the ban. Countries had agreed a “gradual and strictly coordinated lifting” of the restriction from July, she said. 

In a boost for the summer holiday plans of millions of Europeans, most EU countries are expected to end internal border controls by 15 June. The commissioner has called on all EU member states to remove internal border controls by the end of June, although officials said a few restrictions could remain in place until mid-July.

The news will allow millions of Europeans to make summer holiday plans in a boost the hard-hit tourism industry.

Over the last 14 days there have been fewer than 100 new infections per 100,000 people within the Schengen zone, barring a few exceptional regions, notably Sweden, according to a draft paper circulated among the ministers before the meeting. 

In a joint intervention, the leaders of Spain and Italy have urged the head of the EU executive, Ursula von der Leyen, to draw up common safety protocols on transport across Europe’s border-free travel zone. Both Spain and Italy have large tourist industries, which they are anxious to reopen to get their economies moving.

European governments have already begun to open borders with selected neighbours, resulting in a cat’s cradle of rules, but several are excluding the UK, which has the highest official death toll in Europe.

Britons arriving in France and Spain are required to go into quarantine for 14 days, which is in part a reciprocal measure matching the UK’s two-week isolation period imposed on foreign visitors. Germany continues to discourage its citizens from travelling to the UK.

On Friday the Czech Republic became the latest country to ease restrictions, when it announced it was opening its borders with Germany and Austria 10 days ahead of schedule.

Travellers from those countries were free to enter the Czech Republic from noon local time without going into quarantine or having to provide a negative coronavirus test. Announcing the decision, the Czech prime minister, Andrej Babiš, did not offer a reason for the accelerated opening.

Austria announced on Wednesday that it would reopen its borders with all neighbouring countries except Italy. Austria has agreed with authorities in Switzerland, Germany and Liechtenstein to open shared borders from 15 June. Similar moves are under way with the Czech Republic, Hungary, Slovakia and Slovenia.

Earlier this week Germany and Belgium made separate announcements that they would lift a blanket travel ban on EU citizens, including British nationals, from 15 June. But Germany’s foreign minister, Heiko Maas, has “strongly” advised against travel to the UK, citing its requirement on visitors to go into quarantine for 14 days. 

Spain requires foreign arrivals to go into quarantine for two weeks, but has hinted that the requirement could end sooner than the planned date of 1 July. The Spanish government has said it wants to welcome British tourists this summer but it depends on the British quarantine policy. 

In other European developments on Friday, Sweden reported 1,056 confirmed new cases, the third day in a row the Scandinavian country – which has taken a light-touch approach to Covid-19, relying on citizens’ civic responsibility rather than a mandatory lockdown – has recorded more than 1,000 infections.

Chief epidemiologist Anders Tegnell, who said this week that if faced with the virus now Sweden would probably “do something in between what we did and what the rest of the world has done”, told a news conference on Thursday that the new cases were was mainly in western Sweden and among younger people.

Authorities reported 77 more deaths, bringing the total to 4,639, which equates to a death toll per million many times higher than its Nordic neighbours’ but not as high as the UK, Italy or Spain or Belgium, all of which also imposed stricter lockdowns.

  • In France, the head of the government’s scientific advisory council said the virus was “circulating slowly” but it could “reasonably be said” it was under control.

  • More than 50% of people in Spain – but not those in the Madrid or Barcelona regions – will enter the fourth and final phase of lockdown de-escalation on Monday, in which groups of up to 15 people can meet, restaurants can serve diners indoors and shops, cinemas and theatres can open at 50% capacity.

  • Turkey cancelled a weekend lockdown announced late on Thursday after a public backlash, but warned daily cases were rising.

  • Ireland is accelerating its exit from lockdown by expanding it travel limit and reopening shops, playgrounds, libraries and other facilities from Monday.

  • No D-Day veterans will attend the anniversary of the Allied landings in Normandy, France for for the first time in 75 years. Instead a short ceremony will be held involving representatives from nine countries.