Relax the visa rules to aid tourism and growth says EU chief

Commissioner urges liberalisation of application procedures to attract more visitors across Europe

Countries should push through a major liberalisation of their visa regimes in order to attract more tourists from around the world and boost economic growth across the European Union, according to a senior Brussels Commissioner.

"We need a more modern visa policy which can attract the growing middle classes in Russia, China, India and Brazil," Antonio Tajani, the European Commissioner responsible for tourism, told The Independent in London yesterday. "I am at the beginning of this work. It's not easy to change our rules. But it's possible."

In January, US President 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 tourism has long been a neglected "cinderella" industry and 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 EU 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. 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." The Russian president has called for Europe to scrap visa requirements for Russian citizens.

The new US visa liberalisation included a 40 per cent increase in visa-processing capacity at US embassies in China and Brazil, in order to speed up the applications, and an expansion of the number of countries covered by the US visa waiver programme.

The liberalisation proposal is likely to encounter resistance because some European governments, under pressure from their populations, are attempting to curb migration flows within Europe and from outside.

At an election rally at the weekend, the French President Nicolas Sarkozy threatened to pull out of Schengen unless the EU does more to keep out illegal immigrants. In Britain, the former immigration minister, Beverley Hughes, resigned in 2004 after allegations that British officials had been instructed to waive checks on visa applications from Romanians and Bulgarians.

Europe is already the number one tourist destination in the world. Last year the European Union enjoyed a 6 per cent increase in international tourist arrivals. Greek tourist numbers were up 14 per cent, and 13 per cent in Ireland, 11 per cent in Portugal and8 per cent in Spain.

The direct contribution of travel and tourism to European GDP in 2011 was €508.1bn (£425.8bn) and the sector supported around 7.3 million jobs, according to the World Travel and Tourism Council. When related sectors are taken into account, tourism accounts for 10 per cent of the EU's total output and 12 per cent of its labour force, according to the European Commission.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Money & Business

Ashdown Group: Treasury Assistant - Accounts Assistant - London, Old Street

£24000 - £26000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: A highly successful, glo...

Ashdown Group: Business Analyst - Financial Services - City, London

£50000 - £55000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Business Analyst - Financial Service...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£18000 - £23000 per annum + OTE £45K: SThree: At SThree, we like to be differe...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£20000 - £25000 per annum + competitive: SThree: Did you know? SThree is the o...

Day In a Page

Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

How a costume drama became a Sunday night staple
Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers as he pushes Tories on housing

Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers

Labour leader pushes Tories on housing
Aviation history is littered with grand failures - from the the Bristol Brabazon to Concorde - but what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?

Aviation history is littered with grand failures

But what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?
Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of Soviet-style 'iron curtains' right across Europe

Fortress Europe?

Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of 'iron curtains'
Never mind what you're wearing, it's what you're reclining on

Never mind what you're wearing

It's what you're reclining on that matters
General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

Marginal Streets project documents voters

Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

The real-life kingdom of Westeros

Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

How to survive a Twitter mauling

Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

At dawn, the young remember the young

A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

Follow the money as never before

Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

Samuel West interview

The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence