The European Travel Commission (ETC) welcomes the adoption of more flexible and harmonised EU visa rules agreed by the European Institutions. On 17 April, the European Parliament endorsed the agreement reached with the Council on the Commission’s proposal to modernise the EU’s Visa Code. This agreement marks a significant achievement for the EU common visa policy, with the Commission’s first proposal to amend the Visa Code published five years back in 2014.
ETC has worked closely with the EU Institutions throughout the legislative process of the revision of the 2009 Visa Code, strongly advocating for the establishment of a more efficient and less cumbersome process for travellers to obtain visas. This traveller-friendly approach would allow the EU to remain competitive worldwide in an industry that contributes more than 10% toward its GDP and supports 11.6% of total EU employment.
While the legislation is undoubtedly a welcome step forward, ETC is keen to highlight that more changes are required for the European tourism industry to reach its full potential.
Positive developments to the Visa Code
ETC highly welcomes the extension of the Multiple Entry Visa (MEV) to a maximum period of 5 years. Return travellers know the destination better and are more likely to travel independently and explore lesser known places. In times when many European capitals are struggling with mass tourism, MEVs will be a valid tool stimulating sustainable tourism development. ETC is also delighted that the revised regulation includes a provision to allow third-country travellers to apply for visas at their country of residence, a move which will undoubtedly increase visitors’ numbers from emerging markets.
Another positive development is the amount of time in advance a third-country traveller must apply for a Schengen visa. ETC advocated that the best option was to increase the period for up to a year prior to travel, but a three-month increase up to 6 months in advance is welcome progress. This will enable tourists to plan their trips better and in a more cost-efficient manner, and will also benefit the European tourism industry, especially the hospitality sector.
Furthermore, the adopted text stresses the importance of further digitalisation of the application process, stating that a “common solution aiming at digitisation should be developed in the future”. The new rules include the possibility of signing the visa application digitally if electronic signature is recognised by the competent Member State, which should reduce costs and make the application process more efficient. ETC is pleased with this focus on digitalisation, although being mindful that there is still no harmonised procedure. ETC therefore calls for concrete measures to be implemented as soon as possible to allow this goal to become a reality.
ETC’s concerns with the new legislation
Notwithstanding the progress mentioned above, ETC notes that the regulation includes some counterproductive, regressive changes to the existing legislation. In particular, ETC considers the increase in the visa application fee from €60 to €80 to be detrimental to the tourism industry in Europe. ETC maintains that in order for the tourism industry to continue to thrive, there should be no increase to the cost of visas.
ETC also considers the deletion of the proposed by the Commission ability to obtain short-term visas at the borders of the Schengen area a missed opportunity, as such a procedure would have further incentivised travellers to visit the EU.
The legislation must now be formally approved by the Council and then published in the Official Journal of the EU. Once published, the Regulation will be applicable across the EU six months after that. The revised rules should therefore be up and running by 2020.
For further information, the provisional edition of adopted text can be found here.