The European Commission is calling on EU member states to lift all border checks within the bloc by the end of June, Home Affairs Commissioner Ylva Johansson told Euronews.
National coronavirus lockdowns and travel bans have sowed confusion among travellers, cost the tourism industry billions of euros in revenue and undermined the idea of a united Europe.
EU governments are now trying to coordinate how and when to reopen their borders, and member states’ home affairs ministers will be discussing the topic during a meeting on Friday.
"I think we're coming very close to a situation where we should lift all the internal border restrictions and border checks," Johansson told Euronews in a TV interview.
"I'm going to propose that the member states should lift all the internal border checks as soon as possible. And I think a good date should be the end of June," she said, adding she would formally make the proposal during the council meeting.
The Commission has been trying to ensure that travel restrictions across the bloc are lifted in a coordinated fashion, and it unveiled last month a set of recommendations on how to do so.
Johansson said member states were following the Commission’s guidelines on balancing the public health situation with the economic cost of the pandemic – and that she was “very happy” to see countries moving away from border checks.
"I think sometimes you don't know what you have until you miss it," she said. "Citizens really would like to go back to free movement again."
She said the epidemiological situation was fast improving in many member states and that citizens were adopting social distancing measures as "a new normal" to fight the spread of the virus.
She also pointed to a recent report from the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control advising against border closures. The ECDC found they had a significant negative impact on the economy and were effective only in delaying an epidemic at its onset and in isolated regions.
"Available evidence, therefore, does not support recommending border closures, which will cause significant secondary effects and societal and economic disruption in the EU," the report read.
"I think taking all this into account, in my view, now it's time to open up," Johansson said.
Patchwork of regulations
Right now, rules on cross-border travel are confusing, to say the least.
Italy reopened its borders on Wednesday in a bid to salvage its tourism industry. Visitors from the EU and Schengen area countries will not need to quarantine upon arrival.
Austria meanwhile is reopening its borders to all its neighbours except for Italy, due to lingering concerns about coronavirus infections there.
France aims to open its borders on June 15. Germany also plans to lift a travel warning for European countries from that date, though it may still advise against travel in some cases.
EU Commissioner Johansson noted that the decision to reopen their borders or keep them closed ultimately belongs to individual member states.
But she stressed the need for coordination, and the need to reopen the EU’s internal borders before opening up to third countries.
"Especially when it comes to the external borders, it's good if you could have the same approach," she said.
You can watch highlights of the interview with Commissioner Johansson in the video player above.