EU proposes new travel regulations for foreigners

The European Union, seeking ways to better protect its external borders, proposed a system that would require foreigners entering the bloc without a visa to seek pre-authorisation before travelling.

The system, modelled on U.S. practice, would take years to set up, like many policies adopted after a series of recently terror attacks in France, Belgium and Germany.

The European Commission, the EU’s executive arm, said that by setting up the European Travel and Information Authorization System (ETIAS), the bloc would be better placed to keep at bay terror suspects, criminals and people with contagious diseases.

The system would apply to people from countries whose citizens are exempt from visa-entry requirements, including in the U.S., Asia, the Balkans, Middle East and Latin America.

It would also apply to British citizens, once the U.K. leaves the EU, assuming a visa-exemption arrangement has been agreed.

The system isn’t expected to become operational before 2020, pending approval by national governments and the European Parliament and after linking up several security databases across the continent.

“It is technically terribly complicated,” European Commission Vice-President Frans Timmermans said. The “absolute highest level of data protection” needed to be ensured, as the system would gather data on tens of millions of travellers every year, Mr. Timmermans said.

Under the proposal, people from the more than 50 countries who don’t need a visa to come to Europe would register online with their passport data, pay a €5 ($5.36) fee and receive the ETIAS pre-authorization for as long as their passport is valid. The commission estimates that only up to 5% of all travellers would be rejected for reasons ranging from security risks to health hazards.

Mr. Timmermans said the new system closes an important loophole. Currently, border agents and police officers have virtually no information on visa-exempt travelers.

Airlines, ferries, train and bus companies would be obliged to verify passports and ETIAS authorization before boarding.

The commission estimates the cost of developing ETIAS at €212 million and the average annual operations cost at €85 million, to be funded by the fee travellers pay.

The proposal is the latest in a series of measures proposed by the EU after the terror attacks in Europe in the past year, ranging from a assault-weapons ban to imposing passport checks on all EU citizens entering and leaving the border-free Schengen area.

In a report published on Wednesday, the commission called on national governments and the European Parliament to speed up work on most of those proposals.

The absence of a coherent border security system allowed last year over a million migrants—including a handful of terrorists—to slip into Europe largely unchecked. In response, several countries, including Germany, put up border controls within what is supposed to be a border-free area.

Germany is linking the lifting of border checks to an overhaul of the bloc’s asylum system that would make it binding for countries to take a certain share of asylum seekers or else pay into the system. That idea has been opposed by Central and Eastern European countries.