Commission eases visa policy to lure wealthy visitors

Two-day visa granted to Ukrainian journalist for visiting Brussels, 2013. [Georgi Gotev]

The European Commission has adopted a new set of rules designed to ease access to EU countries for visitors from countries subject to the visa requirement. The move was promoted as a way for ailing EU economies to earn many more millions from foreign visitors.

By cutting red tape for travellers from China, India, Russia, Saudi Arabia, South Africa and Ukraine, the Commission says that the EU economy could earn as much as €130 billion in total direct spending over five years (in accommodation, food and drink, transports, entertainment, shopping, etc.), and could create some 1.3 million jobs in tourism and related sectors.

The EU has a uniform visa policy within the Schengen area (see background). Citizens from third countries in the so-called “black” visa list require visas to enter the Schengen area.  From this list, the countries with the highest number of visitors to the EU are indeed China, India, Russia, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, Ukraine probably being added because of political momentum.

For years, EU Commissioner Antonio Tajani has campaigned for the easing of visa requirements, in order to bring in more tourists to the EU. In an interview with EURACTIV in 2012, he pleaded for easing the visa requirement vis-à-vis Russia, China and Brazil. Inadvertently, he appeared to ignore the fact that Brazilian nationals have no visa requirements to visit the Schengen area [read more].

Tajani also cited Slovakia’s tourism minister, who had told him that for Slovakia, it was very important to have more tourists from Russia and Ukraine. He also said that his own country, Italy, is taking steps to bring in more tourists from China by opening mobile offices in cities other than the capital.

To bring in more well-to-do visitors, the EU executive proposes to reduce the deadline from 15 to 10 days for processing visa requests, to make it possible to lodge visa applications in other EU countries’ consulates, if the member state competent for processing the visa application is neither present nor represented, to extend multiple visas for up to three years to regular travellers, to issue short-stay visas at the border (usually the airport) valid for 15 days in one member state, as well as introducing a “touring visa” valid for one year for touring artists [read more].

The new visa policy proposals comes on the heels of an embarrassing incident, in October, when a number of Ukrainian journalists, invited to attend a conference in Brussels, were issued with visas valid for only two days, a decision that demonstrated the “bad will attitude” of the EU towards Ukrainian media, the journalists told EURACTIV.

The announcement coincided with the arrival in Brussels of some 40 heads of state and government from African countries for the EU-Africa summit, from 2 to 3 April. All African countries appear on the awkwardly-titled EU “black list”.

The Commission’s proposals must now be approved by the Council of the European Union, and the European Parliament, which can be expected at the earliest in 2015.

On 14 June 1985, five EU countries – Belgium, France, Germany, Luxembourg and the Netherlands – began the process of further developing European integration by removing border controls.

The Schengen Area has grown rapidly, both geographically and in terms of the number of people benefiting from free movement. Today, over 400 million Europeans from 25 European countries enjoy passport-free travel across the area.

All EU countries except UK, Ireland, Cyprus, Bulgaria and Romania are Schengen members. Bulgaria and Romania are technically ready to join Schengen, but face political obstacles due to what critics say is their deficient law-enforcement systems. Non-EU members Norway, Iceland and Switzerland are Schengen members.

Today Schengen is an area of cooperation with 42,673 km of sea and 7,721 km of land borders.  Europeans make over 1.25 billion journeys as tourists every year and can visit friends and relatives all over Europe without obstacles at internal borders.

EU Institutions


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