Slovenia currently holds the rotating presidency of the EU. The country convened the ambassadors of the 27-nation bloc. As president, Slovenia is responsible for triggering an assessment of countries that are allowed to enter the EU for nonessential travel. (Related: International travelers need to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 "for evermore," warns top UK secretary.)
Current EU guidelines state that the bloc should ban travelers from countries that have over 75 new COVID-19 cases per 100,000 inhabitants over the previous 14 days. As of Aug. 15, according to the European Center for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC), the U.S. had 507 new COVID-19 cases per 100,000 people.
The EU's guidelines also state that the trend of new COVID-19 cases should either be stable or decreasing, and that the positivity rate of COVID-19 tests should not be more than four percent.
The bloc's decision regarding travel restrictions will also take into account whether any new COVID-19 variants of concern have been detected in the U.S. and if the country has reciprocated on opening up nonessential travel from the EU.
Whatever decision the bloc makes will ultimately just be a recommendation. Any decision on who to let in and what restrictions to impose on countries ultimately comes from the governments of each of the EU's individual member states. But so far, every country in the bloc has largely followed EU guidelines, which is why these recommendations carry so much weight.
Because of the post-vaccine outbreak in the U.S., the ECDC has categorized the country as a "high-risk area." The EU has recently rolled back the ban on nonessential travel from several nations, including some that are considered high risk and have ongoing post-vaccine COVID-19 outbreaks.
These territories include Taiwan, Serbia, North Macedonia, Macau, Lebanon, Israel, Hong Kong and Albania.
If the EU were to keep its ban on travelers from the U.S., the bloc would essentially be cutting itself off from the world's largest economy.
Such a move would come as a blow to the airline and tourism industries, which have been lobbying the EU for a full reopening of the 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," said Airlines for Europe, an airline industry lobbying group in a statement released on Wednesday, Aug. 25.
As of press time, no word has yet come out regarding the EU's decision. But officials familiar with the situation are certain that at least one country, Croatia, will vote against relaxing travel restrictions on the U.S.
Removing the U.S. from the EU's travel ban list would require a qualified majority of member states to agree to the proposal.
The status of travel between the EU and the U.S. has been a point of political contention. It should be noted that the U.S. still has a strict travel ban on Europeans, preventing almost all nonessential travel from the continent.
This ban was first enacted at the beginning of the pandemic in early 2020. The administration of President Joe Biden has refused to relax these travel restrictions despite pressure from airline groups to allow visitors from the EU.
The continued implementation of America's ban will likely also influence the EU's decision.
Learn more about the state of travel restrictions in the EU, the U.S. and other parts of the world by reading the latest articles at Pandemic.news.