President Donald Trump’s European travel ban for non–U.S. citizens and permanent residents has been met with seething exasperation by leaders on the continent who appear to have been blindsided by the surprise announcement. In his national address Wednesday night, Trump declared an ill-defined ban on travel from the continent to the U.S.—one that turned out to not apply to American citizens and U.S. residents, just most visitors to the country. The 30-day ban, it was later clarified, only applied to travel from the Schengen Area, the European Union’s 26-nation border-free travel zone that covers most of the continent, but excluded the U.K. and Ireland, which, on the face of it, doesn’t make much sense since there have been reported cases of the coronavirus in each. The general illogic of it as a practical measure seemed to grate European leaders most, as did the lack of coordination and advance warning of the move, rightly interpreted as a significant sign of disrespect for long-standing allies.
“The Coronavirus is a global crisis, not limited to any continent and it requires cooperation rather than unilateral action,” a statement co-signed by E.U. Commission President Urusla von der Leyen and E.U. Council President Charles Michel read. “The European Union disapproves of the fact that the U.S. decision to impose a travel ban was taken unilaterally and without consultation.” The suspicion among European leaders is that the U.K. exception was carved out for political reasons. “Any attempt to contain the #CoronaOutbreak is welcome, but the decision of @realDonaldTrump to exclude the UK from a European travel ban is nothing short of irresponsible,” former Finnish Prime Minister Alexander Stubb tweeted. “Viruses do not recognise borders. Decisions should be based on facts, not politics.”
The EU suspects the American president is playing favorites, namely the other bulging blond populist, U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson. “Trump needed a narrative to exonerate his administration from any responsibility in the crisis. The foreigner is always a good scapegoat. The Chinese has already been used. So, let’s take the European, not any Europe, the EU-one,” tweeted former French Ambassador to the U.S. Gérard Araud. “Doesn’t make sense but [it is] ideologically healthy.”
The overriding suspicion is that Trump’s vague travel ban is a PR exercise rather than a public health one. “With regard to flight bans we are always guided by the science as we make our decisions here,” Rishi Sunak, Britain’s chancellor of the exchequer, told the BBC Thursday morning. “The advice we are getting is that there isn’t evidence that interventions like closing borders or travel bans are going to have a material effect on the spread of the infections.”
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