The Malta Independent 7 May 2021, Friday

Is The European Union overhauling the Schengen Area?

Friday, 8 January 2021, 13:47 Last update: about 5 months ago

By the end of 2022, The European Union is aiming to introduce a European Travel Information and Authorization System (ETIAS) program to its tourism industry. The ETIAS will act as a visa waiver system for passport holders from countries whose citizens currently do not need a visa to enter Europe. 

The visa waiver will function more or less as other electronic visa applications do, even though it is a special travel permit and not an actual visa. An applicant from an eligible country will apply with sufficient time before their trip by filling out an ETIAS application form and waiting to be approved. 

For travellers who are not currently required to take any extra steps before entering Europe, this new system may feel like an unwanted intrusion. However, European leaders have assured travellers that the ETIAS will be quick and easy to fill out and that the end result, when combined with security upgrades, will be a safer European Union for both citizens and visitors. 

But does the creation of an ETIAS also mean that there are other, wholesale changes coming to the Schengen Area?

What is the Schengen Area and why is it important?

One of the prized accomplishments of the European Union is the formation and maintenance of the Schengen Area, which consists of 26 member states in Europe. 

The Schengen Area was named after the city where the original treaty was signed, Schengen, Luxembourg, back in 1985 when representatives from five of the then ten European Communities’ members put pen to paper. 

The purpose of the creation of the Schengen Area was to abolish passport control for people who were crossing from one member state to another. The stated goal was meant not only to help ease the difficulties for workers who had to cross a European border every day in order to go to and from work but also to encourage tourism to many places throughout the continent. 

The increase from five countries to 26 in the ensuing 35 years has helped stimulate tourism industries all around Europe by making it easier for non-Europeans who are planning a vacation to hop from one place to another without worrying about cumbersome visa applications or long waits at border control.

So why would the European Union want to overhaul this amazing system and what type of changes can travellers expect? 

Are more changes to the Schengen Area on the horizon? 

The short answer seems to be yes, although at this current time it isn’t immediately clear what those changes will be and how they will affect the average person travelling to or within the Schengen Area. 

It seems that due to the COVID-19 pandemic, everyone from Schengen Area officials to tourism industry leaders must rethink how travel can safely begin once it is deemed safe enough to do so. 

To that point, officials held the first-ever Schengen Forum on November 30th of 2020. The summit of leaders met to discuss the current state of affairs of the Schengen Area and to propose a series of updates to bolster the organization. 

There were five principal topics that were discussed by the ministers: 

     Changes that were meant to target and improve the Schengen Area’s current systems for monitoring and identification

     An establishment of a regular Schengen Forum to continue to monitor the state of affairs and discuss any possible places for future improvement

     An updating of the Schengen Borders Code, which will aim to ensure that the freedom of movement remains the area’s guiding principle, falling only behind the safety of everyone

     A strengthening of the communication systems between police and border officials across international lines. The idea is to have a more collaborative approach to identifying and tracking potential threats

     The final topic was the aforementioned ETIAS, which is designed first and foremost to ensure that the citizens and tourists inside the Schengen Area are as safe and secure as can be

 Will those Schegen Area changes affect me? 

The majority of the changes are all on the governing and planning side of things as opposed to changes that citizens or travellers will notice. The biggest change will be when the ETIAS goes live and travellers from countries who are not currently required to apply for a visa will need to obtain an ETIAS before entering Europe. 

In general, anyone who is planning on safely enjoying a trip to any destination in the Schengen Area should feel good that the leaders are working to update their security systems as it means they are prioritizing safety. 

The positive feelings coming from the first Schengen Forum have lead to continued conversations and another Schengen Forum is already being planned for spring 2021 where any issues that have cropped up in the interim months will surely be discussed. 


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