CORONAVIRUS

European Commission calls on Spain for ‘coherence’ over domestic, international travel restrictions

Brussels has warned that the risk of coronavirus infections are similar whether journeys are taken inside or outside a country’s borders

Passengers arrive in the Palma de Mallorca airport on Sunday.
Passengers arrive in the Palma de Mallorca airport on Sunday.CATI CLADERA / EFE

The European Commission, which is the executive branch of the European Union, on Monday called on Spain for “coherence” with regard to its domestic and international coronavirus travel restrictions within the 27-country bloc. The call from Brussels came amid rising anger and confusion among Spaniards given that this Easter it will be possible for foreign tourists to vacation in Spain, while residents will not be allowed to travel outside of their regional borders.

The Commission also pointed out that the risks of contagion are similar whether trips are taken inside or outside a country’s borders. “The recommendation [proposed by the Commission and adopted by the 27 EU countries] clearly states that, given that transmission and risk are similar for national and cross-border journeys, member states should ensure there is coherence between the measures applied to the two types of journey,” the EU spokesperson for rule of law, Christian Wigand, said on Monday.

Spain’s regions have implemented perimetral lockdowns ahead of Easter, but only the central government can limit the entry of tourists from the rest of Europe

The calls came after weeks of perplexity and incomprehension over the restrictions put in place ahead of Easter week, particularly given that tourists are allowed to enter Spain from countries that currently have a much worse epidemiological situation.

The Spanish government, which is in charge of restrictions on international travel, has defended the measures citing the difficulty involved in closing the borders as well as the low risk due to the small numbers of tourists who are arriving. What’s more, those who are coming via plane or sea have to present a negative PCR test before they can enter.

The deputy premier and tourism chief of the Balearic Islands, Iago Negueruela, on Monday called on the Spanish government to control all international visitors arriving in the islands “one by one,” in order to “guarantee” that they are not infected.

Tourists from Germany at El Arenal beach in Palma de Mallorca.
Tourists from Germany at El Arenal beach in Palma de Mallorca.ENRIQUE CALVO / Reuters

It is the country’s regions – who are in charge of not only their own healthcare systems and the vaccination campaign, but also of the restrictions in place to curb the spread of the coronavirus – who have implemented the perimetral lockdowns ahead of Easter. They cannot, however, limit the entry of tourists from the rest of Europe – only the central government can do that.

Currently, there are restrictions on flights from the United Kingdom, given the more-contagious strain of the coronavirus that was first detected there, as well as on those from third countries outside the EU. For passengers coming from other EU countries, the only obligation right now is the presentation of a negative PCR when arriving at a seaport or airport. Travelers entering via a land border are not subject to the same requirement.

When questioned about Spain, Wigand opted not to make a specific comment about a single country. But he did add the position of the Commission on travel within the bloc: the EU wants measures to be implemented on a regional basis, according to the epidemiological situation in each area.

The Commission is also arguing that the closure of borders is not the most effective solution for controlling the pandemic. In fact, the executive has already warned several countries – including Germany and Belgium – for banning non-essential journeys outside of their territories, something that it considers disproportionate. According to the spokesperson, the EU has powers over freedom of movement within the Schengen area, but not the measures that each country adopts in its territory to control the spread of the coronavirus.

English version by Simon Hunter.

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