Brussels prepares EU-wide scheme for visa-free travel authorisation

A CBP officer screening passengers at a US airport. [US Customs and Border Protection]

The European Commission is preparing a proposal inspired by France and Germany to introduce a “European ESTA” modelled on a US scheme requiring international travellers who do not need a visa to apply online – and pay a $14 fee – before entering the territory, can confirm.

A legislative draft will be tabled “in the autumn”, probably in November, EU sources told EURACTIV.

Paris and Berlin have been pushing for the scheme, which would introduce a pan-European system for international travellers wishing to enter EU territory.

The proposal comes amid heightened security concerns following deadly terrorist attacks in Paris last November and subsequent bombings in Brussels in March.

French Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve said the “European ESTA” would apply to “persons not subject to visa requirements before they enter the EU territory”, such as US citizens.

The idea was mentioned as part an initiative to “beef up controls at the external borders of the European Union,” unveiled by the French and German interior ministers on Tuesday (23 August).

European ESTA

Cazeneuve said the European system would be modelled on the Electronic System for Travel Authorisation (ESTA) in the United States, an automated system that determines the eligibility of visitors to travel to the country. Similar schemes exist in Canada and Australia.

A European ESTA would be “a way of ensuring you don’t have visa overstayers,” said Natasha Bertaud, spokesperson at the European Commission in charge of home affairs.

The idea was first floated in June when EU Commissioners Dimitris Avramopoulos and Frans Timmermans presented a series of visa liberalisation proposals for Georgia, Ukraine, Kosovo and Turkey, together with an entry/exit system.

It can be traced back to 2011 when consulting firm PWC performed a study for the Commission, presenting a range of policy options on how to put a European ESTA system in place.

“We welcome [the Franco-German proposal] of course,” Bertaud told EURACTIV in e-mailed comments. “That’s why we announced in June that we would be making proposals this autumn.”

Visa liberalisation

Earlier in May, Brussels proposed lifting visa requirements for Turkish citizens as a part of a controversial readmission deal allowing EU countries to send illegal migrants back to Turkey when they are not eligible for refugee status in Europe.

France has reintroduced internal border controls with other countries in the passport-free Schengen area after the Paris attacks last year. These will be maintained “as long as the threat will require,” Cazeneuve warned, saying Schengen rules “will have to evolve”.

The French and German ministers also called for the organisation of a “crisis simulation exercise” by the end of the year at the EU’s external borders to “test the effectiveness and speed of deployment” of the European Border and Coast guard, which will expand on the current Frontex agency.

Other proposals put forward by Paris and Berlin include new EU rules compelling operators of mobile messaging services to provide access to encrypted content to terrorism investigations.

EU backs Franco-German bid for access to encrypted messages

France and Germany want to compel operators of mobile messaging services to provide access to encrypted content to terrorism investigations, after a series of deadly attacks in both countries.

In a related move, EU countries have stepped up anti-terrorism coordination with a pilot project called ADEP, which enables automated transmission of judicial records between police services. “Finland, Spain, Hungary, Ireland, France and Germany are already part of this project,” Cazeneuve said.

“We now ask that this project, which works well, be extended to all Member States of the Union”.

The Franco-German proposals are being put forward ahead of an informal summit in Bratislava on 16 September where EU member states will discuss the way forward after Britain’s decision to leave the European Union.

  • 16 Sept. 2016: Informal EU summit in Bratislava.
  • Nov. 2016: EU Commission expected to table proposal for "European ESTA".


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