Article 18 of the TFEU states that, “Any discrimination on the grounds of nationality shall be prohibited.”  A look at the EU’s recent decisions regarding visa restrictions for third-country nationals makes it clear, however, that this policy can be superseded by Article 77 of the TFEU which vests the European Parliament and the Council with decision-making power regarding the granting of visas to third country nationals. An example of this can be seen in the European Commission’s recent proposal to the European Parliament and Council to add sixteen island nations to the visa-free list, five countries from the Caribbean and eleven from the Pacific islands (see also).  This proposal would allow citizens with a valid passport from these nations to travel within the EU for a period of up to ninety days without the need for a visa.

EU Home Affairs Commissioner Cecilia Malmström and leader for this proposal articulated the rationale behind such measures: “To facilitate travelling for tourists willing to visit Europe, and to spend their time and money, is crucial for our economy, and this is particularly important in a time of crisis, like the one that we are experiencing now.”  A look at the numbers (see IP/12/1177) indicates just how important tourism is to the European Union economy – in 2011, tourism amounted to foreign visitor spending of over €330 billion in 2011 and is estimated to exceed €427 billion by 2022 under the current visa regulations.  Facilitation of tourism through liberalized visa regulations could potentially boost spending by as much as €60 billion.

While this proposal probably came as welcome news to the citizens on the visa-free list, one cannot imagine that all other countries would necessarily share the enthusiasm.  Citizens of Turkey have in the past felt particularly discriminated against by the EU’s visa regulations towards them and have previously petitioned the Commission to adopt a long-term plan to liberalize the EU-Turkey visa requirements. Currently, the visa regulations between the two countries are notably lopsided, with Turkey allowing entry to EU citizens through the simple purchase of a low-cost visa at the border but the EU requiring significantly more extensive documentation, such as airline reservations, proof of insurance and proof of income, and even then, does not ensure entry.  Given the size of the Turkish economy as compared to that of any of the newly proposed island states, it is apparent that economic stimulus was not the only factor at play in the Commission’s proposal.  The EU Commission’s silence with regard to Turkey in this most recent proposal speaks louder than words ever could – that equality and economy must at times yield more immediate concerns.

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