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European Commission

Cecilia Malmström

EU Commissioner for Home Affairs

A smarter visa policy to facilitate tourism to the EU

Joint Press Conference with Vice-President Tajani/Brussels

7 November 2012

In the current challenging economic climate we have to focus our efforts on supporting EU growth and Visa policy as a powerful tool to increase tourism flows to the EU.

This is why, together with Vice-President Antonio Tajani, we adopted today a Communication on how visa policy can spur economic growth in the EU, accompanied by a report on Local Schengen cooperation and by a proposal to grant visa free travel to 16 island nations.

Concerning Visa policy and tourism, research shows the clear potential benefits for our economy of attracting more tourists to the EU.

The number of applications for Schengen visas is consistently growing, with a 32% increase between 2009 and 2011. Yet market estimates indicate that 21% of potential tourists from emerging markets give up their travel plans to Europe due to visa requirements.

According to Tourism Economics estimates, the EU-Schengen area could gain up to 46 million additional inbound international tourists by 2015 if the flexibility in the current visa rules is fully exploited.

This could generate an additional income up to EUR 60 billion in international tourism receipts and create up to 500 000 additional jobs directly in the tourism sector.

This is why we have to do more both in the short term and in the long term to attract legitimate travellers to the EU, while continuing to ensure the security of our borders and the functioning of the Schengen area.

In the short term we have to ensure full implementation of the rules already set in the current Visa Code to make it easier for bona fide travellers to come to the EU.

Let me give some examples of changes that could lead to further improvements and additional opportunities.

Under existing visa rules many obstacles can be removed through the correct implementation of the Visa Code by Member States' consulates. In particular, consulates should enforce the 15 days deadline for granting an appointment, the 15 days deadline for a decision on the visa application, and the availability of application forms in the language of the host country. There is also room for further improvement of the issuing of multiple entry visas.

In the long term we are looking at possible changes to the Visa Code in order to streamline and shorten the procedures; to clarify the definition of the competent consulate for processing the visa application; and to simplify the application form and the supporting documents requirements.

We are also looking at the possibility to redefine the legal framework for Common Application Centres, in order to facilitate the establishment and the functioning of such centres.

Today we also adopted our report on Local Schengen cooperation that represents an important tool when it comes to streamlining procedures put in place in EU Member States' consulates in third countries and deals with very concrete and local issues that can make life easier for third country nationals applying for visas.

It concerns for example the harmonisation of lists of supporting documents to be submitted by visa applicants in a given country, common criteria for the implementation of optional visa fee waivers for certain categories of applicants and harmonisation of fees.

For many people, their first contact with 'Europe' is with a Member State’s consulate when applying for a visa. It is therefore very important to apply the Visa Code correctly so that the process improves, offering visa applicants transparent, fair and equal treatment.

The report concludes that the legal framework for structured Local Schengen Cooperation has not yet delivered its full potential. However, results achieved in a number of key locations have proved its added value in enhancing harmonisation of the way in which the common visa policy is applied.

Today we can also announce good news for citizens from 16 Island Nations that will soon be able to travel to the Schengen area without needing a visa.

This concerns 5 Caribbean Island Nations (Dominica, Grenada, Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines and Trinidad and Tobago),10 Pacific Island Nations (Kiribati, the Marshall Islands, Micronesia, Nauru, Palau, Samoa, the Solomon Islands, Tonga, Tuvalu and Vanuatu), and Timor Leste.

A national from one of these countries would no longer require a visa for short stays (up to 90 days) if he/she is in possession of a passport, be it for business, touristic or family visit purposes.

The Commission's proposal foresees that the visa exemption will be reciprocated through visa waiver agreements, ensuring a visa free regime for all EU citizens who wish to travel to these countries.

This will have a direct impact on citizens of these countries and on EU citizens, in the form of more human contacts and business opportunities.

It is now up to the European Parliament and to the Council of the European Union to take a final decision on the Commission proposal.

To conclude, our objective is to define a smarter visa policy that continues to provide security to our external borders and the good functioning of the Schengen area, whilst at the same time facilitating travel opportunities for legitimate travellers, including tourists.

Since the most effective visa facilitation is of course the waiving of the visa requirement for citizens of a third country, we should broaden our political approach to visas in light of the expected economic impact.

This is an aspect that has not really been taken into account in the past but that we need to embed into our Visa policy if the EU is to benefit from an increase in tourism flows.

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