Thursday 16 August 2018

UK citizens set to be charged €7 fee to visit EU countries under new Brussels plans

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Stock image

Jon Stone

The European Union is moving forward with plans to charge travellers coming from countries outside the single market a €7 “travel authorisation fee” to cross into its territory, under a new system of checks designed to improve security on the bloc’s borders.

British travellers are likely to be hit by the scheme after Brexit, which is set to apply to all visa-exempt countries outside the EU, except those in the EEA/EFTA, which maintain free movement with the union.

Under the new European Travel Information and Authorisation System (ETIAS) people coming into the Schengen area would need to fill out an online form ahead of their trip and apply for travel authorisation, as well as pay the fee.

Theresa May has ruled out membership of the single market and said freedom of movement will end when the UK leaves the bloc – meaning that negotiating an exemption for Britain is likely to prove difficult. A spokesperson for the European Commission’s Brexit negotiating team said the scheme’s application to the UK would be part of discussions on the future relationship, where chief negotiator Michel Barnier has so far been unwilling to cut special deals for Britain.

“Today’s agreement is another important step in protecting the EU’s external borders,” said Valentin Radev, the interior minister for Bulgaria, which is currently chairing the European Council.

“By knowing who is coming to the EU before they even arrive at the border, we will be better able to stop those who may pose a threat to our citizens.”

On Wednesday, ambassadors from the EU countries confirmed an agreement reached on the ETIAS scheme between the presidency of the European Council and the representatives of the European Parliament, who must agree any new EU laws. The European Parliament will now have to vote on the plan, which will also have to be signed off by the European Council.

The EU says the new scheme will “improve internal security, prevent illegal immigration, protect public health and reduce delays at the borders by identifying persons who may pose a risk in one of these areas before they arrive at the external borders”. Because it applies to the whole Schengen passportless area and not just the EU, travellers to countries outside the EU such as Norway, Iceland, and Switzerland would also be hit.

Data submitted in the online application would be processed against EU police and Interpol databases, with further checks made against anyone who raises flags. Countries that already need visas to travel to Europe will not be covered by the scheme, given that tighter restrictions are already in place on them.

Airlines and ferry lines will also have a new responsibility to check whether travellers who need documents have them, with coach operators scheduled to pick up the same rules three years after the scheme’s introduction.

Once a person has obtained travel authorisation under the scheme, it will remain valid for three years, or until that person’s passport expires – whichever is first. After that, they would have to go through the process again.

Catherine Bearder, a Liberal Democrat MEP said: “The fact that Brits will now have to pay to visit the EU was never on the ballot paper in the referendum.

“Voters should have a say on whether this is really what they wanted or if they’ve changed their minds. That’s why I support the People’s Vote campaign.”

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