Visa issues involve both domestic and foreign policy matters within a state, affecting two categories of parties: people who want to travel, migrate or transit, and the countries which would accept them. However, despite its primarily beneficial purposes, the visa regime can also create problems for both sides involved. This article will analyse the situation of EU citizens when trying to apply for visa in different categories of countries.
Regarding the positive aspects, on one hand, positive attitudes arise from facilitating transit or residence conditions imposed by another state. The most important reasons are related to commercial, economic, cultural or social issues. In general, countries with a low level of economic development perceive some satisfaction as a result of easing visa regimes, as their citizens can benefit from new opportunities in other states.
On the other hand, however, the negative perception on the visa regime is created by some states like those that host new immigrant categories. The acceptance of new immigrants carries a range of mainly social and cultural pressure, but it can also impose an economic burden on those countries. France (telegraph.co.uk, 2011) and Belgium is an example in this way, as some voices consider it is becoming an Islamic state. The situation in Belgium is a landmark on the legal system within the EU that is too lenient with immigrants and ethnic minorities (gatestoneinstitute.org, 2012). An example on this topic would be the share of Muslim students in primary school in 2012 in the Antwerp region, which is 45 %.
The current situation of movement within the EU
Free movement of people from EU Member States has been a goal since the establishment of the European Communities. To highlight this rule, article 45 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Community is promoting the free movement of citizens. According to this article, the most important benefits to EU citizens refer to:
1. Eradication of discrimination based on nationality between Member States regarding employment, remuneration and other conditions of employment;
2. Residing in a Member State for the purpose of employment in accordance with the laws, regulations and administrative provisions governing the state rules among employment of workers;
3. Remaining in the territory of a Member State after having been employed in that state.
The Schengen Area and how it is different from the EU
The explanation of this concept clarifies some misconceptions about the freedom of movement for citizens of non-EU countries within the EU. Its foundation was the Schengen Agreement in 1985, which abolished all internal borders of the Member States. Thus, a unique external border has been created, allowing free movement of the signatory states. The main measures that followed immediately after signing the agreement focused on the activity of the Police and internal protection structures, in order to harmonise procedures at a state-level. For this purpose, the Schengen Information System (SIS) was developed. It can be defined as a computer-operated platform updated on a ‘near-real time update’ scheme. The system aims at providing informational support to supervise any border points of this area.
A clear distinction must be made between the geographical area of the EU and Schengen’s geographical area. Currently, the Schengen Area covers twenty-six members of which only twenty-two are EU countries. The visa regime for EU citizens in the Schengen Area is favourable, there is no need for transit or residence visas. However, two EU countries have refused to sign the Schengen Agreement, positioning themselves outside this area: Great Britain and Ireland. Their justification was based on a desire to have a stronger border protection.
The point of interest lies upon non-EU countries which are members of the Schengen Area. It is the case of Norway, Iceland, Lichtenstein and Switzerland. The first two states are members of the Nordic Passport Union, which is affiliated with the Schengen Area principles, being a signatory to the Schengen Agreement. Switzerland signed the agreement in 2008, followed by Lichtenstein in 2011. All citizens of these countries have the right to travel and work in any EU country without having to carry specific documents.
The situation of non-EU/Schengen countries
The main problem of the visa regime for EU citizens only rises when they intend to transit the territory of countries other than the EU Member States or members of the Schengen Area. Currently, Europe is composed of fifty declared sovereign states, with other five regions which are organised on the basis of the national autonomy principle. Using basic math, it can be deduced that there are nineteen states that do not have any rules within the EU and the Schengen Agreement.
These non-EU/Schengen countries display a rather relaxed regime for EU citizens, which can be explained from several perspectives:
1. The living standards of the EU and Schengen states are higher than in other states.
2. Investment is encouraged by offering domestic transit facilities.
3. States’ intention to improve long-term bilateral relations with the EU and the Schengen Member States.
The visa regime for EU citizens outside Europe
The last redoubt from the perspective of visas is the area outside Europe. While within the European continent historical and traditional relations may be presumed, the situation is different as we talk about areas such as the United States of America, South America, Africa, the Middle East or Pacific Asia.
Cultural differences generally lead to two basic scenarios: aversion of harmonisation. Harmonisation, the strategy chosen by European states’ officials in most of the countries, is characterised by convergence, multiculturalism, the uniformity of ideas and practices. A very interesting statistic was developed by Henley & Partners, called Visa Restrictions, where EU is highlighted among the most welcoming states of the world. Actually, EU countries occupy the top six positions: Finland, Sweden, the United Kingdom, Denmark, Germany, and Luxembourg.
As a country of destination, European citizens are more prone to choosing friendlier countries, regardless of the motives which prompts them to transit those areas. EU citizens have a privileged status in relation with the states which try to develop a democratic system, promoting values such as freedom of speech and making clear efforts to raise the living standards of their citizens. These states have relaxed the visa regime for EU citizens, as well as for the U.S., another model of democracy. Countries such as those of South America, Oceanic Asia, and Australia display a positive attitude towards the EU, eliminating altogether the need for a visa to travel for periods of several months.
The particular situation of the former Soviet bloc states
Taking the risk to hue in a discriminatory note some categories of transnational communities, it is clear that countries with a strong social-economic development level only open their borders to countries with a similar status. On the other hand, countries with a lower level of development open their borders to a larger number of countries.
Special circumstances are identified especially in the case of the former Soviet bloc, whose countries show strong resistance to other countries which are not sharing the same economic and social ideology. Examples such as Russia and Belarus are eloquent. One of the main reasons for the limitations of freedom of movement is the repressive practice mostly aimed at their own citizens, as well as the existence of different practices intended to remain hidden to other states. Furthermore, states realise that contact with other developed societies can lead to frustrations and generate resentment in the minds of citizens.
Additionally, wherever there is a certain reluctance to EU citizens and thus to EU Member States, EU citizens need transit or travel visa for most of these states. The former Soviet bloc, as well as those countries which have not yet adopted democratic values, remain consistent with their stricter values when it comes to visas for EU citizens.
If we were to weigh the advantages and disadvantages of being a EU citizen generated by the EU visa regime, it would certainly tilt in the benefits area. Having European citizenship gives people a superior quality status compared to citizens coming from non-EU countries, attracting numerous advantages for Member States.