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EU proposes ‘progressive and partial’ reopening of external borders in July

The EU's external borders have been effectively closed since mid-March due to the coronavirus pandemic but the European Commission is set to announce a plan for a "progressive and partial" reopening of them from July 1st.

EU proposes 'progressive and partial' reopening of external borders in July
AFP

In the coming days the European Commission will publish proposals for an easing of its external border restrictions from July 1st, the commission's vice-president Josep Borrell announced on Wednesday.

Borrell explained the EU's plan was to lift restrictions with certain countries whilst taking into account “a certain number of principles and criteria” and basing the move on “a common approach” between member states.

Further details on which countries will be included in the move to lift restrictions will be made clearer when the proposals are published. 

The EU along with Schengen area countries like Switzerland and Norway closed their borders for any non-essential travel from outside Europe in mid-March. The restrictions are currently set to stay in place until June 15th, but will likely be extended until the end of the month.

EU officials have repeatedly stressed that restoring frictionless travel within Europe was their priority before opening up travel from outside Europe.

Ylva Johansson, EU Commission for Home Affairs, said recently: “Restoring the normal functioning of the Schengen area of free movement is our first objective as soon as the health situation allows it.

“Restrictions on free movement and internal border controls will need to be lifted gradually before we can remove restrictions at the external borders and guarantee access to the EU for non-EU residents for non-essential travel.”

The EU commission can only propose a way forward with the final decision on reopening external borders resting with member states. Johansson has suggested member states were not all in agreement on how the external borders should be reopened and what conditions should apply.

Greece, which relies heavily on tourism for its economy has already announced plans to reopen travel links to certain non-EU countries such as Australia and China on June 15th.

EU countries have been steadily reopening borders in recent days or making announcements when border restrictions will be dropped.

The majority of EU and Schengen countries have announced plans or a desire to reopen borders for European travel on June 15th.

On Wednesday Austria announced its border with Italy would reopen on June 16th, whilst Switzerland has made similar plans in recent days.

What is essential travel?

The EU's definition of essential travel is stricter than many countries' individual restrictions and does not contain any exemption for visits for family reasons.

People who can travel into the European bloc include 

  • Citizens of an EU country
  • Non EU citizens who are permanent residents of an EU country and need to come home
  • Healthcare workers engaged in crucial work on the coronavirus crisis
  • Frontier workers and in some circumstances seasonal workers
  • Delivery drivers

 

 

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ENERGY

How European countries are spending billions on easing energy crisis

European governments are announcing emergency measures on a near-weekly basis to protect households and businesses from the energy crisis stemming from Russia's war in Ukraine.

How European countries are spending billions on easing energy crisis

Hundreds of billions of euros and counting have been shelled out since Russia invaded its pro-EU neighbour in late February.

Governments have gone all out: from capping gas and electricity prices to rescuing struggling energy companies and providing direct aid to households to fill up their cars.

The public spending has continued, even though European Union countries had accumulated mountains of new debt to save their economies during the Covid pandemic in 2020.

But some leaders have taken pride at their use of the public purse to battle this new crisis, which has sent inflation soaring, raised the cost of living and sparked fears of recession.

After announcing €14billion in new measures last week, Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi boasted the latest spending put Italy, “among the countries that have spent the most in Europe”.

The Bruegel institute, a Brussels-based think tank that is tracking energy crisis spending by EU governments, ranks Italy as the second-biggest spender in Europe, after Germany.

READ ALSO How EU countries aim to cut energy bills and avoid blackouts this winter

Rome has allocated €59.2billion since September 2021 to shield households and businesses from the rising energy prices, accounting for 3.3 percent of its gross domestic product.

Germany tops the list with €100.2billion, or 2.8 percent of its GDP, as the country was hit hard by its reliance on Russian gas supplies, which have dwindled in suspected retaliation over Western sanctions against Moscow for the war.

On Wednesday, Germany announced the nationalisation of troubled gas giant Uniper.

France, which shielded consumers from gas and electricity price rises early, ranks third with €53.6billion euros allocated so far, representing 2.2 percent of its GDP.

Spending to continue rising
EU countries have now put up €314billion so far since September 2021, according to Bruegel.

“This number is set to increase as energy prices remain elevated,” Simone Tagliapietra, a senior fellow at Bruegel, told AFP.

The energy bills of a typical European family could reach €500 per month early next year, compared to €160 in 2021, according to US investment bank Goldman Sachs.

The measures to help consumers have ranged from a special tax on excess profits in Italy, to the energy price freeze in France, and subsidies public transport in Germany.

But the spending follows a pandemic response that increased public debt, which in the first quarter accounted for 189 percent of Greece’s GDP, 153 percent in Italy, 127 percent in Portugal, 118 percent in Spain and 114 percent in France.

“Initially designed as a temporary response to what was supposed to be a temporary problem, these measures have ballooned and become structural,” Tagliapietra said.

“This is clearly not sustainable from a public finance perspective. It is important that governments make an effort to focus this action on the most vulnerable households and businesses as much as possible.”

Budget reform
The higher spending comes as borrowing costs are rising. The European Central Bank hiked its rate for the first time in more than a decade in July to combat runaway inflation, which has been fuelled by soaring energy prices.

The yield on 10-year French sovereign bonds reached an eight-year high of 2.5 percent on Tuesday, while Germany now pays 1.8 percent interest after boasting a negative rate at the start of the year.

The rate charged to Italy has quadrupled from one percent earlier this year to four percent now, reviving the spectre of the debt crisis that threatened the eurozone a decade ago.

“It is critical to avoid debt crises that could have large destabilising effects and put the EU itself at risk,” the International Monetary Fund warned in a recent blog calling for reforms to budget rules.

The EU has suspended until 2023 rules that limit the public deficit of countries to three percent of GDP and debt to 60 percent.

The European Commission plans to present next month proposals to reform the 27-nation bloc’s budget rules, which have been shattered by the crises.

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