EU to scrap visas for sunny island states
The European Commission wants to grant visa-free travel to 16 island nations as part of a larger effort to boost tourism in Europe.
The proposal would entitle Island nation citizens with a valid passport to stay in Europe for up to 90 days.
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"We need to attract legitimate travels to the EU while of course securing our borders," EU justice commissioner Cecilia Malmstrom told reporters in Brussels on Wednesday (7 November).
The islands include five from the Caribbean - Dominica, Grenada, Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines and Trinidad and Tobago - and 11 from the Pacific: Kiribati, the Marshall Islands, Micronesia, Nauru, Palau, Samoa, the Solomon Islands, Tonga, Tuvalu and Vanuatu and Timor Leste.
Malmstrom said 21 percent of tourists avoid going to Europe due to overly complex visa procedures. Her office later told this website the figure was taken from a 2010 market report by the London-based European Tour Operators Association (ETOA), a group that aims to influence European tourism legislation.
Meanwhile, consulates in some member states are not respecting the 15-day deadline for visa applications or providing documents in the relevant languages.
"You have to give a response within 15 days and not take two months to give a visa," said commission vice president Antonio Tajani.
The delays and complications are costing the EU tourist industry billions of euros as well as potential new jobs, says the commission. Some 12.6 million visas for Schengen - the EU's passport-free travel zone - were issued in 2011.
Tajani is hoping to attract more people with disposable cash from China, Russia and South America.
Russians lodged over 5 million Schengen visa applications in 2011 compared to just over 1 million from China.
Any security concerns over allowing in potential terrorists is unfounded, said the commissioner. "Visas won't stop a terrorist," said Tajani.
The commission pointed out that its "smart borders" package would help control who enters and exits the EU. The proposals, first introduced in 2008, includes automated ID checks, border gates, increased pre-screening measures, new databases and an entry-exit system (EES).
"We are in the process of finalising the proposition for an entry-exit [system] which will most likely be done in December," said Malmstrom.
The system would automatically identify people who enter the EU on a visa and notify authorities of those who overstay.
The EES has drawn criticism from pro-transparency groups, such as London-based NGO Statewatch, who are concerned about privacy rights and police abuse.
Eleven member states are already implementing their own EES systems and "seem to provide law enforcement authorities with routine access," according to a study published over the summer by the Heinrich Boll Foundation in Germany.
Malmstrom said a balance needs to be found between security and increasing the number of tourists.
Last year alone some €330 billion of tourist money was pumped into the EU economy.
Tajani estimated this could increase to €427 billion by 2022 if member states respected current visa code guidelines.
The commission's visa proposal for the island nations still needs approval from the European Parliament and member states.
Currently, 42 countries are not required to apply for visas to enter the EU. But some of its closest neighbours - Russia, Turkey and Ukraine - need permits.