The COVID-19 pandemic has caused an unprecedented health emergency in all European countries. The absence of an effective treatment or a vaccine combined with an exponential growth in infections in Europe from February 2020 led many EU Member States and Schengen Associated Countries (hereafter ‘the Member States’) to implement far-reaching community measures, including confinement and physical distancing. For almost all Member States, restrictions to free movement with the objective of protecting public health – including temporary internal border controls – were part of these measures. In addition, non-essential travel restrictions have been applied at the external borders of the Union since the Commission recommendations of 16 March, 8 April and 8 May, supported by a guidance of 30 March.

Over the past weeks, the Commission and the Member States have deepened coordination, common action and exchange of information. This has helped to mitigate the impact of these restrictions, allowing for restoring some aspects of the functioning of the Single Market including delivery of essential goods and services across Europe and free movement for essential cross-border travel. These first measures sought to reach a balance between, on the one hand, the objective of delaying the spread of the epidemic, of reducing the risk of excessive pressure on health care systems, and on the other, the need to limit the negative effects on the free movement of persons, goods and services.

As the health situation gradually improves, this balance should change, towards a return to the unrestricted free movement of persons and restoring the integrity of the Schengen area, one of the major achievements of European integration. Lifting restrictions is key for the economic recovery. Restricting free movement and reintroducing internal borders harm the Single Market and the smooth operation of supply chains. More than this, they harm our European way of life in a Union where citizens can travel freely across borders, whether as workers, students, family members, or tourists. We must work to restore this key achievement of European integration.

The purpose of this Communication is to invite Member States to engage in a process of reopening unrestricted cross-border movement within the Union. Restoring the free movement of persons and the lifting of internal border controls needs to be a staged process, with the paramount consideration being the lives and health of citizens. Therefore, the primary condition for restoring travel will be the epidemiological situation, complemented by measures, such as health security requirements on different modes of travel and accommodation, to mitigate health risks. Re-opening cross-border movement is one of the preconditions for restoring tourism and transport.

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Source: European Commission