Call for European states to change their visa regimes

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The Independent Online

European states should push through a major liberalisation of their visa regimes to attract more global tourists and boost economic growth across the Continent, according to a senior European Commissioner.

"We need a more modern visa policy which can attract the growing middle classes in Russia, China, India and Brazil," said Antonio Tajani, the European Commissioner responsible for tourism, in London.

"It's not easy to change our rules. But it's possible."

In January, Barack Obama overhauled the application system for tourist visas to America in a drive to encourage more visitors from China and Brazil. Mr Tajani said: "Why did Obama change? Because the tourist sector is important for the US. I am in favour of doing some thinking along similar lines in Europe."

Mr Tajani said that it was time for European states to regard the sector as essential for growth, especially in those southern European states which are still suffering in the eurozone sovereign debt crisis.

At the moment, tourists from outside the European Union must apply for a visa from the local consulate of an individual member state. The visa allows a person to stay for a maximum of three months and permits free movement within the 26 nations of the European Schengen area (of which Britain is not a member).

In 2010, EU member states issued over 11 million visas.

Mr Tajani said that member states' concerns about security and illegal immigration were valid, but that they should not stand in the way of a liberalisation of visa rules and procedures.

"Of course it's important to work for security, but at the same time our economy is very important," he said.

"As [Vladimir] Putin said at the last meeting of the EU and the Russian Federation, for a terrorist a visa/passport is not a problem. I totally agree with him."

Meanwhile, the Russian president has called for Europe to scrap visa requirements for Russian citizens.