Non-EU citizens will pay to enter Schengen area under future ETIAS scheme

Croatia raised import fees on some farm products by around 220%, triggering countermeasures by Serbia and threats from others. [Will Bakker/Flickr]

The EU’s future passenger registration system could bring in up to €2 billion per year, which could be used to counter EU budget cuts. EURACTIV France reports.

British citizens may soon have to pay to visit the continent. As far-fetched as it may seem, this idea may become a reality when the Schengen area introduces a compulsory system of registration, based on the American ESTA.

The EU Travel Information and Authorisation System (ETIAS) would only apply to citizens of countries that do not need a visa to access the Schengen area. Members of the single market would be exempt from the measure thanks to the free movement of workers. But if the United Kingdom leaves the single market, things will not be simple.

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

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

Bypassing the Security Commissioner

The European Commission decided not to involve London in the project, which will be presented in November. Supporters of ETIAS see it as a way to strengthen security in the EU. But the project will not fall under the supervision of Julian King, the UK’s future Commissioner for Security, whose European Parliament hearing will take place next Monday (12 September).

Instead, it will be managed by the Greek Commissioner for Migration and Home Affairs, Dimitris Avramopoulos. According to a British source, Athens’ interest in the project may have “more to do with finance than security”.

Sir Julian King: 'We now support the evolution of the eurozone, without trying to hold it back'

The man tipped to become Britain’s next EU Commissioner in Brussels, replacing Johnathan Hill, spoke to in an exclusive interview before the UK’s referendum on EU membership. This is a translated version of the interview, originally given in French.

A French source confirmed that the project’s financial side was a major motivation, as it would provide a new source of revenue for the European Union.

The EU budget has been cut for the period 2014-2020, leaving the bloc short of funds at an increasingly challenging time. MEPs are preparing to confront the Council over the 2017 budget.

According to EURACTIV’s calculations, ETIAS could easily bring in €500 million per year by 2020.

€500m for the European budget?

The American ESTA currently costs $14 per passenger. ESTA revenue grew from $177.8m in 2013 to $193.2m in 2015, for a total of 13.8m passengers in 2015, according to US State Department figures.

A similar European system could raise significantly more money. Europe is the world’s biggest tourist destination. According to the World Tourism Organisation, the continent attracted 602m tourists in 2015 alone, out of a total of 1.2bn worldwide.

The European Commission estimates that 30m people from countries not requiring a visa entered the Schengen area in 2014, and that this figure could rise to 39m in 2020. If the EU set the ETIAS tariff at €13, the same price as the US ESTA, it would raise more than €500m for the European budget each year.

But one source told EURACTIV the real amount could be far higher, as the tarif had not yet been agreed, and is likely to be raised. At €50 per visa, the ETIAS could bring in €2bn per year by 2020.

When viewed in the context of the current EU budget (€145bn per year) this is a far more interesting proposition.

After the Apple affair and the difficulties of the TTIP negotiations, the EU may see the ETIAS project as an opportunity to impose itself against the United States.

The future EU Travel Information and Authorisation System, or ETIAS, was mentioned for the first time this spring by Commission Vice-President Frans Timmermans. The European Council also stressed the importance of this system in June.

The implementation of this system has obvious security benefits: it will create a central file of information on non-Europeans in the Schengen area. This is a big change from the current situation.

"The objective is to collect and share as much information as possible on people entering the EU," a French source said. EU countries can currently share information on people that require a visa via the Visa Information System (VIS). But the Schengen Information System (SIS) only works with alerts on specific people.

Subscribe to our newsletters