After the EU had already called on its member states to lift restrictions on travellers from America in June, US President Biden’s government announced this week that it would extend the restrictions for Europeans because of the Delta variant of the Coronavirus. EU officials and politicians in the member states have reacted with irritation to this decision that left them wondering whether the US should also be subject to reciprocity, like China.
The extension of the “travel ban”, the entry restrictions in force since March 2020, was announced by White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki on Monday. Because of the Delta variant, we will maintain the existing travel restrictions at this point,” she said. “And it seems likely that will continue in the coming weeks,” Psaki added. The Biden administration has always stressed that it is guided by scientific evidence in its decisions on the pandemic.
Originally, Biden’s predecessor Donald Trump ordered a ban on foreigners from most of Europe in March 2020. Foreigners from the Schengen area, Great Britain and Ireland are not allowed to enter the USA, with exceptions. In Europe, too, all EU states except Ireland as well as the non-EU states Switzerland, Norway, Liechtenstein and Iceland agreed in March 2020 on recommendations to largely stop non-mandatory entries from third countries – also for Americans.
Last month, the EU, however, called on member states to gradually lift restrictions on travellers from the USA and several other countries. Member states had then re-authorised entry from the USA, among others, for all permitted purposes of stay, including tourism.
The fact that the USA, in return, did not now relax its restrictions for travellers from Europe caused concern in Brussels and the member states. As a rule, entry from the Schengen area to the USA is still only possible for foreigners with special permission.
The decision from Washington came as a bit of a surprise to some in Europe, as there had been some rapprochement with the US in recent weeks. In addition to the lifting of restrictions on the EU side, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken had said that the US administration was aiming for an early lifting of restrictions during a visit to Paris in June. Shortly afterwards, in the presence of US Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas, both sides announced in a joint statement at an EU-U.S. ministerial meeting in Lisbon: “Both sides are committed to reinitiate secure travel between the United States and the EU Member States as soon as possible, based on the principles of mutual cooperation, efficient operation of the international travel system and scientific evidence.” In addition, after a backlog of vaccination rates in the EU, these now even exceed those in the USA.
Countermeasures from Brussels are, however, unlikely. Officials in Brussels said that it made little sense to go on a course of confrontation with the USA at present. Thanks to the Biden administration, transatlantic relations have recently eased considerably, and the hard-pressed European tourist industry is benefiting from American visitors. In addition, the EU is focusing on combating the new wave of the fast-spreading Delta, which could even possibly lead to further restrictions in the future.
The renewal of the travel ban shows the limits of the USA’s willingness to cooperate fully with Europe. It remains to be seen how this travel issue will develop in the future as the pandemic progresses. In any case, Commission spokesman Adalbert Jahnz assured in a press conference on Tuesday that talks with the US will continue and stressed, “we have received reassurances that this is a high priority issue for the US administration.