The EU is considering barring American tourists—again

August 26, 2021, 10:13 AM UTC

The European Union will discuss on Thursday whether to reimpose curbs on visitors from the U.S. as new coronavirus cases soar.

The change was recommended by Slovenia, which holds the EU’s rotating presidency and is responsible for triggering an assessment of countries allowed non-essential travel there, according to two officials familiar with the plans.

The U.S. had 507 new Covid-19 cases per 100,000 inhabitants in the first two weeks of August, according to the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control, well above the limit of 75 set out in EU guidelines. Still, a move to bar visitors from the world’s largest economy would come as a blow to airlines and travel firms pressing for a full reopening of lucrative transatlantic routes.

“Such a decision would be hugely disappointing for Europe’s airlines, not to mention our tourism sector, which has benefited greatly from the influx of American travelers since restrictions were removed in June,” the Airlines for Europe lobby group said in a statement Wednesday.

Air France-KLM closed 0.4% lower in Paris after trading up as much as 3.1%, while IAG SA, owner of Spain’s Iberia and Aer Lingus of Ireland, fell 0.8% in London following a 2.5% advance earlier. Deutsche Lufthansa AG ended the day up 0.1% in Frankfurt, subsiding from a 2% gain.

EU rules also specify that the trend of new cases should be stable or decreasing and that no more than 4% of those tested for the virus are positive. The guidelines take into account whether variants of concern have been detected in a particular nation and whether it has reciprocated on opening travel, which the U.S. hasn’t.

The guidance from the bloc is a recommendation and any decision on who to let in, and what restrictions to impose, ultimately rests with the governments of each member state. While countries have largely followed the EU guidelines, there have been times when individual nations have diverged from them.

The latest proposal recommends removing several other countries from the permitted list, including Israel, said the officials, who asked not to be identified because the discussions are private. 

At least one country, Croatia, will vote against the proposal, according to another official. Removing the U.S. would require agreement among a qualified majority of member states.

Travel between the EU and U.S. has been a point of political contention. The Biden administration has kept border restrictions in place despite pressure to allow visitors from places like the EU that have eased their own curbs. U.S. officials have cited rising Delta infections as one reason for that stance.

Airline routes between the EU and U.S. rebounded to almost 50% of pre-pandemic levels after Brussels chose to let in fully vaccinated Americans in June. The number of scheduled seats from the U.S. to western Europe is 8.6 million so far this year, according to OAG data. That compares to 30.1 million in the same period in 2019.

Lufthansa said earlier this month it sees North America opening up from late summer, while Air France plans to offer 70% of its usual network-wide seating this quarter, predicting a return to profitability.

Airlines for America declined to comment on the EU plans.

—With assistance from Zoe Schneeweiss, Layan Odeh, Christopher Jasper and Alan Levin.

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