What the Visa Waiver Program means to Europe

Much has been written in the past week about the need to "tighten up" the Visa Waiver Program.  Some of the commentary is accurate and balanced while some is less well informed.  As ambassadors of the 28 European member states, 23 of our countries participate in the Visa Waiver Program while the remaining five aspire to join the program in the near future.  So we feel it is important to make our contribution to this debate. 

The Visa Waiver Program is an essential tool in transatlantic relations which allows millions of citizens each year from our respective countries to visit the U.S., and vice versa, for tourism or business purposes, while ensuring a high and effective level of security.  It is a program extended only to developed countries with whom the United States shares a common and democratic worldview and, as such, one which recognizes the important security relationship between the United States and its closest allies.   

ADVERTISEMENT
It is not, contrary to some suggestions, a license to enter the U.S. with nothing more than the wave of a passport of an allied country.  It is a program which makes travel to the U.S. both easier and safer.  All countries participating in the Visa Waiver Program, as well as those EU members who aspire to be a part of it, have already signed up to stringent security measures. As members of Interpol they collaborate closely in this context, with continuous exchange of information enabling VWP States to identify potential mala fide individuals at country borders, as well as to spot possibly fraudulent VWP country passports.  Travelers under the VWP are required to hold machine-readable passports containing biometric data; to possess a valid onward ticket on an approved carrier and, most importantly, to undergo the same comprehensive background checks under the Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA) as are required of visa applicants.  ESTA is an excellent tool that has brought significant benefits to the U.S. and the Visa Waiver Program countries in the form of better security measures and cooperation on security issues, and we would gladly explore how to improve it further. 

2015 has presented both the U.S. and its allies with significant global challenges.  We have together faced terrorist attacks such as those most recently in Paris and San Bernardino.  We have together formed a coalition to take on Da'esh.  Together we share the determination to protect our citizens and our borders.  This is why we are keen to see the implementation of practical, constructive enhancements to the Visa Waiver Program, with re-assessment in due course and when the time is right.  This is a critical time to stick together.  

What we want to see is intensified cooperation, and consequently greater security, for both the United States and its allies.  We want to work with the U.S. to improve information exchange regarding individuals subject of course to the appropriate constitutional protection.  We hope to see Senate approval for the Judicial Redress Act, already approved by the House in October and key for improved law enforcement cooperation.  

At the same time it will be important to avoid introducing elements of rigidity or automaticity which would hamper the sensible implementation of any new legislation by law enforcement authorities.  A blanket restriction on those who have visited Syria or Iraq, for example, would most likely only affect legitimate travel by businesspeople, journalists, humanitarian or medical workers while doing little to detect those who travel by more clandestine means overland.  European Union citizens who are dual nationals of a proscribed country would also be disproportionately and unfairly affected.  Compulsory biometric checks at the port of origin would represent the de facto introduction of a visa regime in all but name; such indiscriminate action against the more than 13 million European citizens who travel to the U.S. each year would be counterproductive, could trigger legally-mandated reciprocal measures,  and would do nothing to increase security while instead hurting economies on both sides of the Atlantic. 

Terrorism is a shared challenge on which the U.S. and its allies are already moving in the same direction.  Let us work together to develop and, in the foreseeable future to expand to all EU Member States, an enhanced Visa Waiver Program which remains fit for purpose both in protecting our citizens and our homelands, and also in facilitating the legitimate pleasure or business travel of those who share common democratic values.

European Union's Ambassador to the United States David O'Sullivan;

Austria's Ambassador to the United States Hans Peter Manz;

Belgium's Ambassador to the United States Johan Verbeke;

Bulgaria's Ambassador to the United States Elena  Poptodorova;

Croatia's Ambassador to the United States Josko Paro;

Cyprus' Ambassador to the United States Georgios  Chacalli;

Czech Republic's Ambassador to the United State Petr  Gandalovic;

Denmark's Ambassador to the United States Lars Lose;

Estonia's Ambassador to the United States Eerik Marmei;

Finland's Ambassador to the United States Kirsti Kauppi;

France's Ambassador to the United States Gérard Araud;

Germany's Ambassador to the United States Peter Wittig;

Greece's Ambassador to the United States Christos P. Panagopoulos;

Hungary's Ambassador to the United States Dr. Réka Szemerkényi;

Ireland's Ambassador to the United States Anne Anderson;

Italy's Ambassador to the United States Claudio Bisogniero;

Latvia's Ambassador to the United States Andris Razans;

Lithuania's Ambassador to the United States Rolandas Krisciunas;

Luxembourg's Ambassador to the United States Jean-Louis Wolzfeld;

Malta's Ambassador to the United States Dr. Patricia Borg, Chargé d'Affaires a.i.;

Netherlands' Ambassador to the United States Henne Schuwer;

Poland's Ambassador to the United States Ryszard Schnepf;

Portugal's Ambassador to the United States Domingos Fezas Vital;

Romania's Ambassador to the United States George Maior;

Slovak Republic's Ambassador to the United States Peter Kmec;

Slovenia's Ambassador to the United States Dr. Božo Cerar;

Spain's Ambassador to the United States Ramón Gil-Casares;

Sweden's Ambassador to the United States Björn Lyrvall;

United Kingdom's Ambassador to the United States Sir Peter Westmacott, KCMG, LVO.

More in Foreign Policy

Government consensus on genocide should mean American action

Read more »