Emily Tamkin and Robbie Gramer
Foreign Policy MagazineMarch 3, 2017
If you are an American citizen, you may think that you now need a visa to go to Europe, because you have seen headlines that read things like, “European Parliament votes to end visa-free travel for Americans.” But contrary to what you may have glanced at while scrolling through your Facebook feed, Americans won’t need visas to travel to Europe.
To be clear: That headline from a British paper is not factually inaccurate. The European Parliament really did vote that. But it’s a non-binding vote with no real impact.
Why cast it, then? Is it because of rising tensions between the European Union and President Donald Trump’s administration? Because one too many Americans has behaved badly at a bachelor party, or Pamplona-area hospitals were sick of treating gringos with gorings?
No. It’s because Americans don’t need visas to travel anywhere in the Europe Union as tourists, while citizens from certain European countries still need visas to come to the United States. European lawmakers pushed the symbolic vote forward in retaliation for the United States not allowing visa-free travel for citizens from (newish) EU members Bulgaria, Croatia, Poland, Cyprus, and Romania.
This has been brewing since 2014, when the European Commission became aware that Australia, Brunei, Canada, Japan, and the United States were not reciprocating visa-free travel to all EU citizens, which is counter to the visa reciprocity agreement. Australia, Brunei, and Japan have changed their ways since then, and Canada has pledged to do so by December.
Only the United States has not. And so the European Parliament passed a symbolic, but, again, nonbinding vote that will not actually change the way in which U.S. citizens travel to Europe.
“You’re really seeing frustration and anger, and without any timetable, this is becoming increasingly seen as second-class treatment,” British MEP Claude Moraes of the Labour Party told the New York Times after the vote Thursday.
The European Commission got the hint. It pledged to tackle the issue “without delay” after Trump’s administration had settled in, CNN reported. Though given some senior administration officials’ negative views of the European Union, that may be an uphill battle.
Still, regardless of breathless headlines, the real story is that Americans don’t need visas to go to the European Union, and certain Europeans still do.