The European Commission today adopted a political Communication on the state of play and way forward as regards the situation of non-reciprocity with certain third countries in the area of visa policy. As the US requires visas from citizens of Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Poland and Romania, the Commission is obliged to pursue a reciprocal regime on US citizens entering Europe. As of the 12th of April, it has duly asked the Council of Ministers and the European Parliament to consider suspending the Schengen visa waivers for visitors from the US, as well as Canada.
This has occurred almost automatically. The Commission has to regard the rights of EU citizens as equal, and the selection of some member states for visa requirements is regarded as anathema. So 24 months ago it issued a formal notice to the US State department asking for a reconsideration of their position with regards to the five member states, and that notice period has now expired, so they had to forward the issue onto the Council and Parliament.
This matter comes at a moment when European cohesion – and its borderless travel zone – is under some stress. Austria has just introduced a “border management plan” at the Brenner pass, and spot checks are occurring at or near frontiers throughout Europe.
“Whilst we have every sympathy with the Commission, they are victims of their own process. It is important that the European economy does not become a victim too. The business of accommodating US and Canadian visitors is an enormously important industry for Europe. We effectively sell them services worth approximately €50 billion: it is an export industry on the same level as the automotive sector. Millions of jobs are dependent on it.
Nothing on this scale has been threatened before, so it is difficult to make estimates. But when a visa regime is imposed we would expect leisure travel (which, including visiting friends and relatives) makes up over 80% of this total, to suffer a fall in magnitude of roughly 30%.
Mario Bodini, Chairman of ETOA, said “There should be reciprocity, but is not a €15 billion and 600,000 jobs problem. And reciprocity is a principal widely ignored in visa circles: Europeans enjoy far more freedom to travel around the world than the world enjoys coming to Europe.
Mercifully both the Council and the European Parliament have to take into consideration the economic impact and the practicalities of any move. And the practicalities are overwhelming. Even if the numbers were to drop, it would leave the main Schengen entry countries with a 10 million visa processing task. That alone should sink this idea.”
Tom Jenkins, CEO of ETOA added, “The US and Canada are two of our most important and longstanding origin markets. At a time of difficulty for the tourism industry in Europe, this does not project the necessary welcome.”