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Open borders: Europe’s haphazard route to ending travel restrictions

As European countries emerge from their coronavirus lockdowns and lift travel restrictions to revive their tourist industries, the EU has been aiming to coordinate the border reopening among its 27 members. But it hasn't quite worked out like that.

Open borders: Europe's haphazard route to ending travel restrictions
German police officers control a motorist at the French-German border in Huningue, eastern France. Photo: AFP

The bloc has recommended that the member states fully reopen their frontiers with each other on June 15, and many countries are planning to relax controls on that date.

But the border reopenings have been far from harmoniously coordinated.

Early birds… and those that never closed

Italy, which has been among the world's hardest hit by the new coronavirus pandemic, reopened its borders on June 3rd, lifting all restrictions for travellers from within Europe.

Bulgaria, Croatia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia, Slovakia and Slovenia have also already begun to lift restrictions for foreigners entering their countries but excluded those from nations they deem as not safe – in many cases that list includes Sweden and the UK.

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Poland has reopened its borders to all fellow EU members and the UK from June 13th.

Sweden meanwhile never closed its borders to EU countries.

Neither did tiny Luxembourg – but quickly found all its neighbours closing their borders instead.

EU's mid-June plans 

In line with the EU's plans to reopen borders in the bloc by mid-June, Belgium, France and Greece are lifting restrictions on Monday for travel within Europe.

Paris, however, has specified it wants reciprocity and has imposed (voluntary) quarantines on travellers from the UK and Spain in response to those countries' quarantines.

Greece, on the other hand, has gone further, also allowing travellers from farther afield, such as Australia, New Zealand, Japan, South Korea, China, Israel and Lebanon.

There has been confusion on the French-Germany border with France opening its side at midnight on Sunday/Monday while the German government is holding out a further 24 hours until midnight on Monday/Tuesday.

This picture taken on May 9th, 2020, from the French side of the Europe Bridge in Strasbourg shows a few dozen Pro-European Union activists waving EU flags on the German side of the Rhine river as they mark Europe Day and protest against the closing of the borders between France and Germany. Photo: AFP

Therefore on Monday, people will be allowed to enter France from Germany, but anyone wanting to enter Germany from France will still face border restrictions.

The Dutch government has announced it would ease warnings against non-essential foreign travel from the same date.

Austria, which has already opened its borders to most of its neighbours, will on June 16th lift travel restrictions with a total of 31 countries – but has excluded Portugal, Spain, Sweden and the United Kingdom.

The Czech Republic is also allowing free travel with a number of European countries from Monday, but restrictions are still in place with those deemed a risk due to their levels of coronavirus infections.

Hold outs

Spain will only lift travel restrictions on June 21st, re-establishing free travel with fellow EU countries.

The land border with Portugal will however remain closed until July 1st. Portugal has suffered a much lower death rate than Spain from the coronavirus epidemic.

However, Spain's Balearic Islands will see an earlier contingent of foreign guests when they welcome 11,000 Germans from June 15th in a pilot project for the revival of the crucial tourism sector.

Romania has not yet announced when it will re-open its borders to  foreigners without restrictions.

Meanwhile, others are lifting border controls, but are still doing so more gradually. 

Denmark opens its borders to Germany, Norway and Iceland for visitors from Monday as long as they can show they plan to stay outside the capital Copenhagen for at least six consecutive nights.

And the UK…

For its part the UK has kept its border open throughout the pandemic but has since imposed quarantine rules on travellers arriving in the country.

While there are exceptions for certain travellers such as cross-border workers and truck drivers, those entering the UK are asked to fill out an online form in which they must give their address in the UK and then self-isolate for 14 days.

Those who breach the rule risk fines of up to £1,000 in England.

The UK's quarantine rule is set to remain in place until at least June 29th.

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TRAVEL NEWS

What to expect from strike action in France during the February school holidays

Several French unions have filed strike notices for February, with some aiming to target to busy February holiday period - here's what you can expect.

What to expect from strike action in France during the February school holidays

France is in the grip of a major confrontation between unions and the government over plans to reform the pension system.

So far, the main actions have been concentrated on one-day strikes that are supported by all eight of the union federations, however an increasing number of unions are filing notices for renewable or unlimited strikes, with some targeting the February holidays.

The French minister of tourism, Olivia Gregoire, called on unions to respect the “sacred period” of school holidays (which in France run from February 4th to March 6th, depending on which zone you are in).

Meanwhile, Philippe Martinez, the head of the hardline CGT union, told RTL that if the government remains stubborn then “there is a possibility of days of action during the school vacations”.

As a result, it is likely that further notices will be filed.  The Local will update this story with the latest – but here’s what we know so far.

January actions

Tuesday, January 31st – this is the next one-day mass strike, which will likely see severe disruption on many services, particularly public transport – full details here.

February actions

Trains – two rail unions – the hardline Sud-Rail and CGT-Cheminots – have filed a renewable strike notice for “mid-February” in addition to a two-day strike which is to take place on Tuesday, February 7th, and Wednesday, and 8th. 

READ MORE: Calendar: The French pension strike dates to remember

Ski resorts – two of the largest unions representing French ski lift operators and seasonal workers, FO (Force ouvrière) and the CGT, have filed “unlimited” strike notices starting on January 31st – the same day that unions across other sectors have called for another ‘mass strike’.

This doesn’t necessarily mean that the strike will continue throughout February, but unions say they want to put pressure on the government to discuss both pensions and changes to benefits for seasonal workers, which particularly affect ski industry employees.

The CGT union in particular has threatened further actions during the Ski World Championships, held in Courchevel from February 6th to February 19th. Strikes in ski resorts usually primarily affect the operation of ski lifts. You can read more here.

Oil refinery workers – refinery workers have threatened to strike for a period of 72 hours beginning on February 6th. 

The national union coordinator for French oil giant, TotalEnergies, Eric Sellini, told AFP that these actions would result in “lower throughput” and “the stoppage of shipments.”

The most concrete effect of this is likely to be shortages of petrol and diesel at some filling stations if the blockades are successful in stopping supplies leaving the refineries.

Power cuts – the hardline CGT have also threatened more “direct action” with employees of the State electricity sector threatening to cut the power to certain towns. This isn’t a scheduled action (or indeed a legal one, the government has promised to prosecute workers who do this) but short targeted power cuts could continue into February.

UK border – finally, if you are travelling to or from the UK, be aware that a UK Border Force strike is planned for February 1st and 2nd, which is likely to increase waiting times at the border.

We will update this story as more details are released, and you can also find all the latest in our strike section HERE.

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