EU could reopen borders to tourists in Covid-19 recovery plan

European countries will be advised to open borders to countries with similar coronavirus risk profiles, under a plan to aid the tourism sector being discussed in Brussels.

The European commission is expected on Wednesday to recommend a three-phase approach to reopening borders that brings together member states with “similar overall risk profiles”, according to a leaked version of the draft seen by the website Euractiv.

But it remains unclear whether the commission will throw its weight behind “tourism corridors”, whereby member states make bilateral deals to open to each other’s tourists.

The EU includes some of the countries worst hit by the pandemic – notably Spain and Italy – but others such as Greece and the Czech Republic that limited its impact.

Senior EU officials acknowledge they cannot stop governments from striking such bilateral deals, but continue to argue against selective treatment. “Member states cannot open borders for citizens from one EU country, but not from others. This is essential,” the EU home affairs commissioner, Ylva Johansson, told MEPs last week.

Separately, Boris Johnson and Emmanuel Macron were said to be working on a deal that could allow their citizens to travel freely between the UK and France over the summer.

The UK prime minister and French president were reported by the Sun newspaper to be working on a travel corridor, aimed at allowing British tourists to visit France in the summer and vice versa.

Keeping the corridor open would depend on both countries maintaining a downward trend in coronavirus cases and a similar rate of contagion. The agreement would also apply to Ireland, which is part of a common travel area with the UK.

The British government has exempted travellers from France from having to go into a 14-day quarantine that will apply to most international visitors. But for now citizens of both countries are being advised not to travel to holiday homes.

By the peak summer season, travellers across the EU will be able to check an interactive map drawn up by the European commission’s science service that will provide information on the latest border controls and travel conditions, under the commission plans. The EU executive will also call on member states to construct preparedness plans in case of a second wave of coronavirus.

Travel bans, grounded planes and closed borders caused by the pandemic response is to prove disastrous for Europe’s tourism industry, which accounts for 10% of the union’s economic output, and more in Italy, Spain, Croatia and Greece.

The United Nations World Tourism Organisation predicted in March that global visitor numbers could fall by 20-30% in 2020, leading to losses of $450bn (£362bn), but that now looks like an underestimate.

The commission has pledged to prioritise tourism in an EU recovery plan that is still being worked on.

Meanwhile, the commission has declined to back a call by more than a dozen EU member states calling for a relaxation of passenger rights rules that would allow cash-starved airlines to reimburse people with vouchers rather than money for cancelled flights.

The commission is expected to say that customers should retain the right to a cash refund, although will propose common rules for vouchers to make them as attractive as possible.

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