BRUSSELS – U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo played down concerns Thursday that the European Union might refuse to allow Americans into the 27-nation bloc as it considers lifting restrictions on overseas travelers starting next week, due to the spread of the coronavirus in the United States.
“It’s a challenge for all of us to decide how and when to open up our economies and our societies. Everybody’s trying to figure that out,” Pompeo said during a videoconference organized by the German Marshall Fund think tank. “We’re working with our European counterparts to get that right.”
European nations appear on track to reopen their borders between each other by July 1. Their envoys to Brussels are debating what virus-related criteria should apply when lifting entry restrictions on travelers from outside the EU that were imposed in March.
As the criteria are narrowed down, a list of countries whose citizens might be allowed in is being drawn up. The list would be updated every 14 days based on how the coronavirus is spreading around the world.
The EU’s executive commission recommends that “travel restrictions should not be lifted as regards third countries where the situation is worse” than the average in the 27 EU member countries plus Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland.
That is likely to rule out people living in the United States, where new coronavirus infections have surged to the highest level in two months, according to figures compiled by Johns Hopkins University.
Beyond epidemiological concerns, any country being considered would first be expected to lift its own travel restrictions on visitors from all 31 European nations.
This would also rule out the U.S. In a March 11 decree, President Donald Trump suspended the entry of all people from Europe’s ID check-free travel area. More than 10 million Europeans usually visit the United States each year.
But Pompeo said it’s important for everyone to help “get our global economy back going again.”
“We’ve denied travel to Europe and vice-versa. That’s the posture that we all sit in now, and I think we’re all taking seriously the need to figure out how to get this up,” he said. “We’ll work to get this right. We want to make sure that it’s health-based, science-based.”
The European Commission on Thursday insisted that it’s not trying to target any country or that the list might be politicized as tourism-reliant countries around Europe push to get their borders open again.
“The European Union has an internal process to determine from which countries it would be safe to accept travelers,” spokesman Eric Mamer said, adding that the EU's decisions are “based on health criteria.”
AP Diplomatic Writer Matthew Lee in Washington contributed to this report.