Will US tourists need visas to visit Europe? EU officials postpone a decision

Despite the delay, analysts say it is unlikely that the European Union will issue a visa requirement for American and Canadian tourists. 

Jessica Gow/TT News Agency via AP
In this July 2, 2015 file photo, tourists look at a view of Stockholm.

The European Union has suggested requiring visas for tourists from the United States and Canada. Although this decision could have s significant impact on American travelers and the European travel industry, the European Commission announced Tuesday that any decision on the matter will be delayed for almost three months, until July 12.

Currently, Americans and Canadians can visit the 26 European countries of the Schengen area for either business or pleasure without a visa for stays of three months within each six-month time period.

The same applies for citizens of European Union states visiting the US – except for citizens of Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Poland, and Romania. Canada requires visas for visitors from Bulgaria and Romania. 

For these EU states, it's all about reciprocity. 

"E.U. citizens rightly expect to travel without a visa to any third country whose citizens can enter the Schengen area visa-free," Dimitris Avramopoulos, the E.U. commissioner for migration, home affairs, and citizenship, said in a statement after Tuesday's meeting. Suspending the visa waiver for American and Canadian citizens would be "a balanced and fair outcome," Mr. Avramopoulos added. 

Despite the extension, it is unlikely the EU will make "any move to slap visas on Americans and Canadians," the Associated Press reports. Of the 28 EU states, this reciprocity issue only applies to five countries. And not only are they few in number, but they are also relatively weak in power: Romania and Bulgaria, for example, are the poorest countries in the EU.

Finally, the EU is unlikely to require visas for American tourists because the five countries pushing the hardest for this requirement currently benefit very little from the tourism industry. France, Spain, and Italy – three EU countries whose citizens are already able to visit the US visa-free – were in the top five for international tourists in 2014, boasting between 83.7 and 48.5 million visitors. These figures hardly compare to Bulgaria and Romania's tourist statistics, which measured between seven and eight million in 2014. And Cyprus only had 2.4 million visitors in 2014.

"It is important that the European economy does not become a victim," the European Tourism Association (ETOA) said in a statement. "The business of accommodating US and Canadian visitors is an enormously important industry for Europe. We effectively sell them services worth approximately 50 billion Euros ($56.87 billion)…. Millions of jobs are dependent on it." 

The ETOA estimates that a visa requirement for Americans and Canadians would cut leisure trips to Europe (which make up 80 percent of all tourist trips) by at least a third.

"There's no doubt that if the EU were to slap a visa requirement on the US, it would be very, very bad news for the European tourism industry," Jacob Funk Kirkegaard, a senior fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics, told the International Business Times. "It would also quite frankly send the wrong political signal in the middle of TTIP negotiations."

Mr. Kirkegaard is referring to the proposed Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), a US-EU agreement that has been under negotiation since 2013. The TTIP is controversial because it would create the world's biggest free trade zone. By lowering the cost of trading goods between the EU and the US, the TTIP would essentially remove all customs duties on EU-US trade adding an additional 0.5 percent of GDP to the EU economy. 

This report includes material from Reuters. 

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