EU mulls E-registry for US visitors

EU

Now that the US is asking visa-free travelers from Europe to answer queries online before they leave home, the EU may set up a similar scheme.

The EU is looking into introducing an electronic travel authorization system after a similar system was approved in the US last week. “We are considering introducing this [system] here. A final decision has not yet been taken,” said a spokesman for justice commissioner Franco Frattini on Tuesday (7 August). He went on to add that the EU would have to look at whether the scheme introduced more security benefits to passengers than travel inconvenience. US president George W. Bush last week signed off a series of anti-terrorism measures that included a system of electronic screening for passengers travelling to the US and not requiring a visa.

The new system will mean that travelers from the 15 EU member states that currently do not require visas for the US - mainly western Europe states - will have to register online and complete a questionnaire before being allowed to travel. This could in practice mean giving two day’s notice before flying to the US – something the EU fears will obstruct business travel. Speaking about the possible EU scheme, Frattini’s spokesman said the “details” still have to be worked out but noted that the system was already in place in Australia and appeared to work well. Commissioner Frattini is to present an initial report on the issue to an EU interior ministers’ meeting next month.

On Monday, the two sides conducted high-level talks in Brussels into the US law and its potential impact. The spokesman said that EU justice officials considered it “a potentially positive step in the right direction as, opposed to previously, it is focussing more on security issues rather than just immigration features.” However, Brussels will continue looking into all the political and technical implications of the US bill.

Washington’s anti-terrorism measures, stepped up in the aftermath of the 2001 September terrorism attack in the US, have long been a source of tension between the two sides. The US requires extensive information (up to 34 pieces of data) about air passengers travelling to the States – which has raised data privacy concerns in Europe. A bill requiring that all container traffic coming to the US be scanned – also passed last week – is considered disproportionate by the EU. Meanwhile, the US’ visa waiver program which excludes virtually all of the member states that joined the EU in 2004 and since, has caused an especially strong outcry in Poland, the Czech Republic and Hungary. All three countries consider themselves close allies of Washington and have sent troops to Iraq and Afghanistan. “We can no longer tolerate first- and second-class member states, that’s definitely not acceptable,” said Frattini during a visit to Hungary last month. (businessweek.com)

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