If you’re a U.S. citizen planning a trip to Europe this summer, get ready to apply for a visa before you go. On Thursday, the European Parliament voted to temporarily deny Americans visa-free travel within the EU for the next twelve months. MEPs are now putting pressure on the EU Commission to take all necessary legal steps to impose the visa requirement within two months—just in time for summer vacation.
This vote comes after Washington’s refusal to waive visas for all EU countries. The United States does not allow EU nationals from five countries—Cyprus, Croatia, Bulgaria, Romania and Poland—to enter the country without a visa. Since Americans can travel freely within all 28 European Union member states, Washington’s visa requirements for these five member states is against visa reciprocity.
In December, the European Commission published a report on the visa dispute which stated the body was, “using all opportunities to explore the way ahead and all options or necessary actions to be taken to achieve this objective.” At this time, MEPs began pushing for the reintroduction of visa requirements for U.S. Citizens as an act to “encourage” Washington to play its part.
According to the report, the Department of Homeland Security claimed the five EU nations had been denied a visa waiver because they did not meet the necessary requirements on visa refusals as laid out in U.S. law. The following quote is also included in the report.
“The Department of Homeland Security also reiterates that temporarily suspending the visa waiver for U.S. citizens would be highly counterproductive to the achievement of a reciprocal visa waiver.”
The European Commission first discovered the U.S. was not fulfilling its obligation under the reciprocity agreement in 2014; however, no legal action was taken until now.
The U.S. is not the only country which has not kept its side of the bargain with the EU in terms of visa reciprocity. Canada, Japan, Australia and Brunei also failed to meet their obligations, but all four countries have changed—or will soon change—all policies imposing visa restrictions on EU citizens.
Although MEPs approved the resolution with a show of hands yesterday, some within the European Commission have expressed caution and concern. Commissioner Dimitris Avramopolous stated the move could have negative effects of the EU’s tourism industry. He also mentioned the act may have consequences, not to mention possible retaliation by the Trump administration.
For any U.S. citizens hoping to go on a hassle-free European vacation sometime during the next year, there is still light at the end of the tunnel: Although lawmakers passed resolution, it is still currently non-binding. According to Reuters, the European Commission plans to seek out a diplomatic resolution to the issue, which makes it unlikely visa requirements for U.S. citizens will already be in place by the May deadline.
The EU is also considering setting up a new system called the European Travel Information and Authorisation System (ETIAS). Similar to the United States’ Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA), any traveller to the EU who doesn’t require a visa will be required to get an ETIAS in order to enter the Schengen zone. Like ESTA, they will be required to register before traveling to the EU. They will be charged a fee of 5 euros. Once registered, ETIAS would be valid for five years.
In his 2016 State of the Union address, President Jean-Claude Juncker stated
“We need to know who is crossing our borders. By November, we will propose an automated system to determine who will be allowed to travel to Europe. This way we will know who is travelling to Europe before they even get here.”
According to current plans, the EU system would be ready to implement by 2020.
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