EU travel has never been so confusing. Any traveler who has recently tried to plan a trip around Europe knows all too well the headaches and puzzlement that come along with the ever-changing entry requirements and border rules.
During the pandemic, each EU nation has established their own set of entry rules and restrictions, often looking extremely different from the rules of their neighbors.
Some countries have a long list of nations that can visit without tests or quarantines, while others have extremely strict testing rules. One traveler might be permitted to enter a certain EU nation but be shut out of others. Some countries are even re-closing their borders after surges in cases, causing massive disruptions in travel plans.
Not only are the messy rules across the EU confusing for travelers, but even border police and local authorities are having a hard time keeping up with the whiplash changes.
The EU commission aims to simplify travel rules
To help solve the confusion, the European Commission has put forward a proposal to member states that would harmonize and coordinate travel throughout the EU. They have suggested using a common color-coded system, based solely on risk and transparency levels, that would make one clear set of entry rules for travelers.
“Today we propose to our Member States a well-coordinated, predictable and transparent approach to travel restrictions where these are needed, always placing the protection of public health first. We must avoid further disruption of already fragile economies and additional uncertainty for citizens who have made huge sacrifices. They expect this from us after so many months living with COVID-19.”
– Commissioner for Health and Food Safety, StellaKyriakides
If approved, the new system will have one harmonized way of categorizing risk levels, simple color-coded lists, and one blanket rule for testing and/or quarantines. It would intensely simplify entry rules and remove many levels of doubt for travelers, airlines and border control alike.
The EU commission has suggested launching the new system incorporating 4 important elements. They are:
1. Harmonized Criteria
Since most nations are using their own set of criteria to assess risk, the first step in the proposed color-coded system would be to use one system of risk measurement.
The advised harmonized criteria are as follows:
- The total number of newly notified COVID-19 cases per 100 000 people in a given area in a 14-day period;
- The percentage of positive tests from all COVID-19 tests carried out in given area during a seven-day period;
- The number of COVID-19 tests carried out per 100 000 people in a given area during a seven-day period.
2. Easy To Understand Color-Coded Lists
Based on the above suggested criteria, the EU commission is recommending a 4-color system be implemented across all member nations. Green, Orange, Red and Grey would signify the risk level of the traveler.
- Green for an area where the total number of newly notified COVID-19 cases is less than 25 during a 14-day period AND the percentage of positive tests from all COVID-19 tests is less than 3%;
- Orange for an area where the total number of newly notified COVID-19 cases is less than 50 during a 14-day period BUT the percentage of positive tests from all COVID-19 tests is 3% or more OR the total number of newly notified COVID-19 cases is between 25 and 150 BUT the percentage of positive tests from all COVID-19 tests is less than 3%;
- Red for an area where the total number of newly notified COVID-19 cases is more than 50 during a 14-day period AND the percentage of positive tests from all COVID-19 tests is 3% or more OR the total number of newly notified COVID-19 cases is more than 150 per 100 000 people during a 14-day period;
- Grey if there is insufficient information available to assess the criteria proposed by the Commission OR the number of COVID-19 tests carried out per 100 000 people is less than 250.
“Since March, the Commission has developed and delivered a solid foundation of internal and external border control recommendations for Member States to follow. Today’s measures builds on this track record so that we can fully benefit from our Schengen area. That is why we want a clear ‘green, orange, red’ system and not a kaleidoscope of individual measures”
– Commissioner for Home Affairs, Ylva Johansson
3. Common Requirements For High-Risk Travelers
Across the EU, travelers from high-risk countries are all treated differently at the moment. Some are completely banned, while others might face 14-day quarantines and anywhere from 1 to 3 PCR tests.
The prospective system would dictate one common approach for how to handle incoming high-risk travelers, such as PCR testing upon arrival.
For example, the rule could potentially be: All travelers from RED and GREY countries entering the EU must bring a negative PCR test performed no later than 72 hours prior to arrival and agree to a rapid test upon arrival at the airport.
Having one clear rule will not only help travelers plan accordingly but will also help to revive lost tourism dollars by allowing travelers to safely enter the EU again.
4. Regular Updates
Currently, each nation updates their ‘countries allowed’ lists and entry requirement rules on their own schedules. Some might update daily, while others weekly, and some even less frequently and sporadically.
The new suggested system would ask for planned weekly updates that would be scheduled, as so travelers and local authorities can better be aware of upcoming changes.
“Our right to move freely in the EU has been heavily impacted by the pandemic. For the many citizens who rely on frictionless travel every day, the cacophony of national rules in the EU is overwhelming. We want to simplify things. We are proposing straightforward criteria, applicable without discrimination, which are easy to follow by Member States and allow to inform Europeans properly.”
– Commissioner for Justice, Didier Reynders
The European Commission suggested this new system to member states of the EU on September 4, 2020.
The Commission’s proposal for a Recommendation will be discussed by the Council with the aim of an adoption in the coming weeks.