It comes only two months after the EU’s show of goodwill in reopening its borders to leisure visits from the United States - hoping this would be reciprocated by the lifting of Covid-19 travel bans imposed on it by the US - that the EU decided to shut its borders on the US once more. New restrictions have been imposed on what is considered “non-essential travels” to Europe by American citizens.
This happened on August 30th when the EU’s governing council (comprising of all Heads of State and Government from its 27 member states) announced the temporary removal of five countries - Israel, Kosovo, Lebanon, Montenegro, the Republic of North Macedonia and the United States -, from its safe travel list due to their rising Covid-19 cases. Whilst this reasoning was given in an official statement by the European Council, many news platforms across the US like CNBC and Forbes have led their reports alleging this might be a retaliation against the US for not easing its travel restrictions on Europe - which were put in place by Donald Trump in 2020 - even after President Biden's hinting to do so earlier this year.
In a White House news conference in July with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, President Biden explained that in the process of considering how soon the US can lift the ban on the EU, he would answer that question within the next several days. This was in response to questions asked by reporters during the conference and a previous statement made by the Ambassador of the European Union to the United States, Stavros Lambrinidis, who stressed that the U.S. should put an end to Covid-19 travel restrictions on European travelers, although the recent ban imposed by the EU on Americans is exactly the opposite. This statement was followed by Jen Psaki, the White House press secretary, affirming that the Title 42 restrictions, like the other travel bans, would remain for the time being.
Though Covid-19 cases in the US have risen to about 40 million, with deaths reaching an estimate of 1,725 daily, the retaliation, some say, might be a way to quicken the United States' lifting of the travel ban on the EU, which continues to impact ordinary people the most.
For any country to be reinstated on the EU’s travel safe list, especially when taken off due to a rise in Covid-19 cases, that country must not have more than 75 new cases per 100,000 inhabitants in the next 14 days. However, the European Commission spokesperson for Home Affairs, Adalbert Jahnz, added on Monday that “the EU’s executive arm remained in discussions with the U.S. administration as both sides have so far failed to find a reciprocal approach.” The European Council further noted that “reciprocity should also be taken into account on a case-by-case basis.”
While restrictions were agreed by the EU, allowances were also made for member states to decide for themselves whether or not they would allow Americans to enter their territory for work purposes, this could be paired with restrictions including quarantine, a certificate of vaccination and a negative Covid-19 test, consideration of the duration of travelers’ stay and their age. In an interview with CNN, American Businessman Scott Keyes explained how frightening the headlines were, especially for travelers like himself who had prepared for their trip to the EU a week after the announcement. "What am I supposed to do?” he asked. Americans can still travel to European countries outside the EU such as the United Kingdom, which exited the Union early this year and currently has a policy of admitting only vaccinated Americans.
Chief Medical Adviser to President Biden Dr. Anthony Fauci believes that “[w]hat is going on now is both entirely predictable [and] entirely preventable [...]. We could turn this around and we could do it efficiently and quickly if we just get those people vaccinated.” Though the White House hasn't commented on the issue, Dr. Fauci speaks on behalf of the American Health Department in his statement. It is possible that the administration could see this as an opportunity to advance its all-must-be-vaccinated agenda. In other words, the more people that are vaccinated, the sooner Europeans will likely be allowed to travel to the U.S. and Americans to the EU.
Does this show that the Biden administration expected this outcome? Will the situation change in the near future? Everything rests largely on how the US reacts to the ban. It will take at least two weeks for the EU to reconsider adding an already-removed country back on the travel safe list; should the Biden administration refuse to lift its travel ban on EU countries within two weeks, things are likely to remain the same.