For members


REVEALED: EU plans digital-only Schengen visa application process

Soon those non-EU nationals requested to have a Schengen visa to travel to European countries will no longer need to go to a consulate to submit the application and get a passport sticker, but will be able to apply online. 

REVEALED: EU plans digital-only Schengen visa application process
A picture taken on September 28, 2021 in the Moroccan capital Rabat shows a Moroccan passport backdropped against a Schengen visa. (Photo by FADEL SENNA / AFP)

The European Commission has proposed to make the Schengen visa process completely digital.

The special visa, which allows to stay for tourism or business (but not work) in 26 European countries for up to 90 days in any 6-month period. 

Nationals of third countries such as South Africa, India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka need the Schengen Visa to visit Europe, but they are not needed for other non-EU nationals such as Britons or Americans. You can see the full list of countries who need a Schengen visa here.

The proposal will have to be approved by the European Parliament and Council, but is in line with an agreed strategy that EU governments are keen to accelerate in the aftermath of the pandemic. 

Once agreed, the system will be used by the countries that are part of the border-free Schengen area. These include EU countries, excluding Ireland (which opted out), and Bulgaria, Romania, Croatia and Cyprus (which do not issue Schengen visas). Iceland, Norway, Lichtenstein and Switzerland, which are not EU members but have signed the Schengen Convention, will be part of the new system too.

Paper-based processes required applicants to travel to consulates to submit the application and collect their passports with the visa, a procedure that “proved problematic during the COVID-19 pandemic,” the Commission said.

Some EU countries have already started to switch to digital systems but not all accept online payments for the visa fees. 

When the new system will be in place, the Commission says, applicants will be able to check on the EU Visa Application platform whether they need a visa. If so, they will create an account, fill out the application form, upload the documents and pay. 

The platform will automatically determine which Schengen country will be responsible for the application and applicants will be able to check their status and receive notifications. Travellers will then be able to access the visa online, and if needed extend it too.

“Half of those coming to the EU with a Schengen visa consider the visa application burdensome, one-third have to travel long distance to ask for a visa. It is high time that the EU provides a quick, safe and web-based EU visa application platform for the citizens of the 102 third countries that require short term visa to travel to the EU,” said Commissioner for Home Affairs Ylva Johansson.

“With some member states already switching to digital, it is vital the Schengen area now moves forward as one,” said Commission Vice-President for Promoting our European Way of Life, Margaritis Schinas.

However, first-time applicants, people with biometric data that are no longer valid or with a new travel document, will still have to go to a consulate to apply.

Family members of citizens from the EU and the European Economic Area, as well as people who need assistance, will also be able to continue to apply on paper. 

The EU Visa Application platform will be used from third countries whose nationals must be in possession of a visa to enter the EU and is different from the ETIAS (European Travel Information Authorisation), which is currently under development.

The ETIAS will be used by non-EU nationals who are exempt from visas but who will need to apply for a travel authorisation prior to their trip. This will cost 7 euros and will be free for people below the age of 18 and above 70. 

Based on the discussion between the European Parliament and Council, the Commission could start developing the platform in 2024 and make it operational in 2026. EU countries will then have five years to phase out national portals and switch to the common online system. 

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For members


ANALYSIS: Why do so many Austrians reject the European Union?

Austrians are the most sceptical in Europe about the benefits of the European Union, according to a recent Eurobarometer survey. Why do so many people in Austria reject the bloc?

ANALYSIS: Why do so many Austrians reject the European Union?

A recent Eurobarometer survey showed that  Austrians continue to hold a particularly negative attitude towards the European Union.

The survey, published on Wednesday, found that only 42 percent of Austrians view EU membership favourably, while 22 percent consider it a negative development. This marks the lowest approval rating among all 27 EU member states.

In comparison, the EU average is an approval rate of 61 percent. About 68 percent of Germans view their membership in the bloc favourably. 

The survey also revealed that Austrians are among the most sceptical about the benefits of EU membership. A mere 55 percent of respondents believed that EU membership had been a net positive for Austria, the lowest figure in Europe. In contrast, over 90 percent of Lithuania, Ireland, Luxembourg, and Malta respondents expressed a positive outlook on EU membership’s impact on their respective countries. The EU average was 72 percent. 

READ ALSO: ‘We all win’: Which countries could join an expanded EU and when?

Despite these reservations, Austrians acknowledge the significant influence of EU decisions on their daily lives. Nearly three-quarters of participants in the survey indicated that EU policies affect their everyday experiences. This sentiment is reflected across the EU, with 70 percent of respondents recognising the EU’s impact.

Values and priorities

Austrians also diverged from the average in the EU when it comes to the values and priorities that the European Parliament should defend and address. 

Austrians put more value on “Freedom of speech and thought” than elsewhere in Europe.

READ ALSO: EXPLAINED: Why isn’t Austria in NATO?

Austrians are also much more concerned about migration and asylum than the average EU member, with this topic mentioned by 28 percent of the respondents compared to 18 percent on average across the bloc. 

This is the issue that political experts believe is at the core of Austria’s scepticism towards the EU – at least in recent years. An analysis by Die Presse highlighted: “Politicians and businesses in Austria are making little effort to correct the negative public image of the EU with facts that clearly speak in favour of membership”.

In some controversial issues, such as immigration, it is easier for politicians to shift the blame to the bloc, its policies, and its “failure” to care for its external borders. Especially with elections coming up in 2024, the chancellor’s party, the ÖVP, has focused on EU-sceptical rhetoric, with a rejection of an expansion of the Schengen area, for example.

Whenever faced with criticism of his asylum policies, Chancellor Karl Nehammer repeatedly stated the EU needs stricter policies, “more fair” distribution of asylum applicants and stronger borders. 

The coalition partners, Greens, have also downplayed their pro-European stance in recent years – Die Presse claims the party has done so “for the sake of the coalition”. Even the centre-left SPÖ hasn’t defended the bloc’s membership so fervently. The EU, it seems, has become Austrian politicians’ scapegoat.

READ ALSO: 11 maps that help you understand Austria today

The far-right

Though the far-right FPÖ isn’t solely responsible for such scepticism, the Freedom Party has attacked the EU several times, from its position on the Russian war against Ukraine to climate change matters. 

Standing as the opposition party, the FPÖ has gathered support from those who were persuaded that the EU was to blame (along with the current Austrian government) for asylum issues, “stringent” climate policies, vaccination recommendations and high inflation rates. 

Now, with the election for the European Parliament standing next June, most parties are not sending candidates at all. Both European Affairs Minister Karoline Edtstadler (ÖVP) and Infrastructure Minister Leonore Gewessler (Greens) have decided not to run. 

READ ALSO: Why is support for Austria’s far-right FPÖ rising?

A mandate in Brussels seems to be the path to retirement rather than a coveted position, and the elections – the federal one in Austria and the legislative one in the EU – will put the role of the European Union at the centre of the debate once again in 2024.