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EU foreign ministers: Borders open for holidaymakers by summer

Berlin – Europe wants to open its internal borders for tourism before summer begins, a group of EU foreign ministers said Monday.

Foreign ministers online meeting

German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas met his counterparts from Spain, Italy, Austria, Greece, Croatia, Portugal, Malta, Slovenia, Cyprus and Bulgaria — all holiday destinations popular with Germans — via video on Monday to discuss the gradual easing of measures in place to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus.

The Covid-19 travel restrictions largely halted the freedom of movement enjoyed across Europe.

Now, cross-border movement will be reinstated in phases, based on coronavirus transmission rates, coordinated by EU member states.

"It will be crucial to ensure that our citizens cannot just travel freely within Europe, but can also safely return home," the ministers said in a joint statement.

Germany currently has a worldwide travel warning in place that runs until June 14. Maas said he will lift that warning for European countries and instead offer individual country guidance on coronavirus risks for travellers.

"We cannot permanently maintain a travel warning for the whole world. We want to return to normal step by step," Maas said, while stressing that summer holidays will not be just as they were before the coronavirus pandemic. "We should not give in to the illusion that there can be a quick return to business as usual."

Most popular tourism destinations

Quite a different tourist season

German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Monday suggested the unified European rules could be based on the German upper limit for new infections.

According to the German rules, if there are 50 new Covid-19 infections per 100,000 inhabitants in a city or district over seven days, the city must return to stricter measures.

"It has to be the same in other countries, then you can rely on each other," Merkel said. "We must have the courage ... to treat all regions equally."

But she said holidaymakers must expect a certain amount of restrictions.

"It will not be a normal tourist season; it will be a tourist season in the wake of the pandemic. That is the truth," Merkel said. "But, of course, we want to allow as much as possible as is responsible."

Italy, one of the hardest-hit countries in the pandemic, will welcome travellers from the Schengen area starting on June 3.

"We are ready to safely welcome European citizens who want to spend their holidays in Italy," Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio said during the call.

Maas plans to hold another call with the foreign ministers of France, Austria and Switzerland on Wednesday.

The ministers are basing their talks on guidelines released by the European Commission addressing tourism amid the health crisis a few days ago.