Europeans still don’t enjoy full visa reciprocity with the US. Divergent perceptions of the problem mean there is little common action among member states.
There are markedly different views among Europeans about visa reciprocity with the US. Bulgaria, Cyprus, Poland and Romania are still not part of the visa waiver programme (VWP) because their visa refusal rates are above 3 percent threshold set by the US. This means that while Americans can travel freely to the whole EU area, the citizens of these countries have to get a visa to enter US territory. These four countries are therefore understandably mobilised to get in the VWP. Citizens of all the other member states that are part of the VWP still have to register with the Electronic System of Travel Authorisation (ESTA) and pay a $14 fee to travel to the US. However, this is generally considered an acceptable cost – even though no similar fee exists for Americans to travel to the EU – and despite the mobilisation of some MEPs few governments are serious about opening the issue.
In May 2011, Barack Obama travelled to Warsaw and promised to accelerate Poland’s entry into the VWP. This could be done by replacing the current criterion with one more favourable to all four EU applicants such as the visa overstay rate. But this measure faces opposition in Congress, and Washington still has to specify how it would define and monitor the overstay rate. Americans also insist that Romania and Bulgaria must enter the Schengen zone before being admitted into the VWP, whose requirements are, however, much less stringent.
Several members of the European Parliament have called for a European ESTA, possibly with a reciprocal fee to be paid by Americans, which could lead to a formal confrontation with the US. In 2011, the European Commission determined that, at this stage, a European ESTA would do little to enhance the security of member states while imposing a significant financial, diplomatic and privacy cost. The commission is expected to decide in 2012 whether the American ESTA is a visa in disguise. Until then, Europeans should keep pressuring Washington to get rid of an unfair tax.