CORONAVIRUS

Spain backtracks on minister’s claim about reopening land borders with Portugal and France

Two hours after Tourism chief Reyes Maroto announced that the travel restrictions would be lifted in just over two weeks, a press release clarified that the planned date remains July 1

French police control the border near the Basque town of Irun.
French police control the border near the Basque town of Irun.

The Spanish government has clarified that Spain will not open to international visitors until July 1, backtracking on Tourism Minister Reyes Maroto’s announcement on Thursday that restrictions to border crossings with Portugal and France would be lifted from June 22.

“In the case of France and Portugal, I want to confirm that the restrictions on land borders will be lifted from June 22,” Maroto said at a press conference to foreign correspondents.

The government is considering opening up tourism to certain regions in the second half of June

Two hours later, however, the central government published a press release indicating that “safe international movement will take place from July 1,” as was previously announced by Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez.

Portugal’s Foreign Minister Augusto Santos Silva said he was “surprised” by Maroto’s unilateral announcement of the land border reopening, Reuters reported.

Spanish authorities closed the borders to everybody but residents, cross-border workers and truck drivers from mid-March, when the country went into lockdown in a bid to curb the coronavirus outbreak.

The June 22 date coincided with the end of the state of alarm in Spain, which was extended by the Congress of Deputies on Wednesday for the sixth and final time. Maroto confirmed that once the extraordinary measure comes to an end, “these [travel] restrictions will be lifted, and movement between these important countries will be recovered.”

Maroto told reporters that Spain would probably lift the 14-day quarantine for people coming in by land from France and Portugal on this date, but added that was yet to be approved.

“Today, I cannot give you that certainty [...] but if the conditions are there to remove quarantines before July 1, we will do it,” she said.

The minister explained that the decision to lift quarantine measures would be made on the principle of reciprocity and according to the contagion rate in respective countries. The Spanish Foreign Affairs Ministry has been a strong defender of the quarantine, which has principally affected Spaniards who have returned to the country from abroad.

Maroto’s statements contrasted with those of Foreign Affairs Minister Arancha González Laya, who argued that homogeneous, transparent and non-discriminatory criteria must be applied to restore freedom of movement. The government has previously defended opening the borders of all countries in the Schengen zone to other European countries, including the United Kingdom. The executive has, however, considered making exceptions to this rule depending on a country’s rate of coronavirus.

The Spanish government had initially said that it would only start lifting restriction to borders as of July 1. But last week, Maroto proposed opening up travel corridors between different areas and regions of countries in the European Union with a similar level of control over the coronavirus epidemic.

Maroto provided more details of this plan on Thursday, saying they were working on experimenting with tourism to certain regions in the second half of June, and tour operator TUI was due to bring 6,000 German tourists to visit the Balearic archipelago around the island of Mallorca.

France has already said it was in favor of Europe opening its internal borders from June 15.

Portugal officially closed the border until June 15 but the government had previously said it assumed it would remain closed until the end of the month because of Spain’s own restrictions.

Spain’s tourism industry, which accounts for more than 12% of Spain’s gross domestic product (GDP), has been devastated by the coronavirus crisis. Not a single hotel was open in April, and not one international visitor showed up, leading to zero tourist spending, according to the National Statistics Institute (INE). Although there has been a slight rise in hotel reservations for summer, industry spokespeople say it will not be enough to save the season.

With information from Reuters, Europa Press and AFP.

English version by Melissa Kitson.



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