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EU States Can Restrict Travel for Public Health, Says CJEU

Updated: Dec 7, 2023

The Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) has delivered a ruling affirming the authority of European Union (EU) member states to enforce travel restrictions on non-essential travel to or from other EU nations classified as "red zones." The case originated from actions taken by tour operator NORDIC INFO, which canceled flights from Belgium to Sweden in 2020 when Sweden was designated a "red zone" due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

EU States Can Restrict Travel for Public Health, Says CJEU

NORDIC INFO, alleging errors in Belgium's adoption and modification of COVID-19 color codes, sought compensation for damages arising from the introduction and alteration of these codes. To clarify the compatibility of such measures with EU regulations, the Belgian Court sought guidance from the CJEU, specifically the Union Citizens Directive 2004/38 and the Schengen Borders Code.


The CJEU's ruling underscores that member states, in their efforts to combat pandemics like COVID-19, have the authority to impose restrictions on non-essential travel to or from other member states designated as "red zones." However, this legislative authority comes with specific requirements. The legislation must articulate clear reasons for the restrictions, include precise and transparent rules, be non-discriminatory, and allow for legal challenges through judicial or administrative redress procedures.


Importantly, the Court emphasized that any restrictions on the freedom of movement within the EU must adhere to the principle of proportionality. This means that the measures should be appropriate for achieving the public health objectives pursued without unnecessary interference.

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This ruling provides clarity on the legal framework surrounding member states' ability to implement travel restrictions based on health considerations. It acknowledges the need for flexibility in responding to health crises while ensuring that any measures taken are reasonable, transparent, and subject to legal scrutiny.


The decision reflects the broader trend of countries globally adopting stringent measures to curb the spread of COVID-19 and its variants, including restrictions on non-essential travel. In Belgium's case, the country had implemented travel restrictions to and from states classified as "red zones," subjecting travelers to testing and quarantine requirements upon entry.


Overall, the CJEU's ruling establishes guidelines for EU member states to navigate the complex balance between public health imperatives and the principles of free movement within the bloc.

By fLEXI tEAM

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