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Sunday, March 3, 2024

EU eyes return to free travel by early July

The European Commission hopes that travel restrictions within the Schengen European free travel area will be lifted by the end of June and to end a ban on entry into the EU by early July, Home Affairs Commissioner Ylva Johansson said today.

“I believe … we will return to the full functioning Schengen no later than end of the month of June,” said Johansson. The free travel area, composed of 22 EU countries plus Switzerland, Norway, Iceland and Lichtenstein, has not been functioning since countries rushed to reintroduce border controls to stop the spread of the coronavirus.

Johansson, who spoke at a virtual press conference following a virtual meeting of EU home affairs ministers, said that many EU countries supported the plan, but acknowledged that “there were also a few member states who said they were not ready to take that decision now and would like to follow that development a bit further.”

Reluctance was voiced by representatives of Poland, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Romania and Bulgaria, a Council official said. Spain, after unilaterally announcing it will open borders from June 22, said it would reconsider after receiving backlash from Portugal.

Fully rebooting the system has proven hard, with many countries wary of opening borders to all their neighbours for fear of importing new cases. “At the end of the day it is the decision for each member state,” said Johansson.

For travel from outside the bloc, the Commission will next week propose a two-week extension to the ban on non-essential travel into the EU — meaning the restrictions would end in early July.

“That was supported by many member states … We will continue having a dialogue before we make a final decision,” said the Swedish commissioner.

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