On 13 October 2020, the Council adopted a legally non-binding recommendation on a coordinated approach to travel measures between EU countries. Member States agreed on common criteria and a common framework on travel measures in response to the COVID-19 pandemic to reduce the negative impacts of current travel restrictions.
Specifically, this means that a common colour-coded map broken down by region will be produced weekly by the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) with the data provided by the Member States.
Moreover, Member States (MS) agreed on a common framework for possible measures for travellers:
· MS should not restrict the free movement of persons travelling to or from green areas;
· MS should in principle not refuse entry to persons travelling from other Member States, but they could require persons travelling from non-green areas to undergo quarantine or undergo a test after arrival;
· MS may offer the option of replacing this test with a test carried out before arrival;
· MS should mutually recognise the results of tests for COVID-19 infection carried out in other MS by certified health bodies.
· MS could also require persons entering their territory to submit passenger locator forms (a common European passenger locator form should be developed for possible common use).
Exemptions to quarantine rules are given to travellers with an essential function including “persons travelling for imperative family or business reasons”.
The decision of whether to introduce restrictions to free movement to protect public health remains the responsibility of Member States. However, these restrictions have to comply with the principles of proportionality and non-discrimination as described in the EU treaties.
Covid-19 travel restriction and its impacts on sport
Sport actors welcomed this initiative as sport has been deeply impacted by the lockdowns and mobility restrictions throughout the year. An impressive number of sporting events, including a high number of European club and national teams’ competitions, had to be cancelled or postponed. Not all sport organisations and leagues on European level managed to finish the 2019/2020 season as planned. Moreover, the current patchwork of Covid-19 rules in the different Member States is causing chronic unpredictability and making effective planning and responsible organisation of pan-European competitions nearly impossible. Therefore, especially for pan-European sports, improved clarity, pragmatism and coordination at European level would make a vital difference.
European Team Sport Federations express support for Commission proposal
Prior to the Council meeting, the European Team Sport Federations (FIBA Europe, EHF, CEV, Rugby Europe and UEFA) together with the EOC, and supported by EOC EU Office, sent a joint letter to the EU Ministers. With this letter the European Team Sports Federations and the EOC:
· Urged the German Presidency of the Council of the EU and the Member States to take up the proposal of the European Commission from 4 September 2020 “on a coordinated approach to the restriction of free movement in response to the COVID-19 pandemic”;
· Called for a pragmatic and coordinated approach by the Member States regarding the restriction of free movement in order to safeguard the effective planning and responsible organisation of European or international competitions, including qualifications matches, until such time as a proper coordination has been achieved at European level.
The letter went on to explain the specific health protocols adopted by the federations in order to safeguard the highest level of protection for athletes, officials, necessary delegates/entourage and the general public.
In light of the current challenges of sport federations to organise pan-European competitions, the Council recommendations can only be seen as a first step in the right direction. The common framework provides only little more predictability, when organising pan-European sport competitions, as quarantine rules still vary from country to county and the mutual recognition of tests remain in the hands of each MS. Therefore, much of the burden currently lays on the shoulders of national sport federations to cope with national regulations.
Given the rapidly rising numbers in most Member States, the Commission, on 28 October, launched an additional set of actions. According to Commission President von der Leyen this includes “increasing access to fast testing, and […] facilitating safe travel when necessary”. It will also include the launch of a common passenger locator form until December and increased interoperability of tracing apps.
This push was further underlined by the Council meeting on 29 October, in which the heads of state and government agreed that stronger coordination was needed to fight the pandemic. Especially important, in the eyes of Council President Charles Michel, is the mutual recognition, deployment and use of rapid tests, as this would “reduce the negative impact on free movement”. EU leaders also agreed on a common approach regarding rapid testing, as well as cooperation concerning vaccines. On the latter, the Commission has been ensuring that there should be a fair distribution of vaccines to Member States, as soon as they would be available, yet, no official date has been given yet.