Several weeks ago the European Commission put forward a proposal to revise the EU's visa code for third-country visitors to the Schengen passport-free area, but don't get excited about the change happening any time soon, as even if it is accepted it is not expected to be effective until later in 2015.
The idea is good and would be welcomed wholeheartedly by any cruising sailor wanting to visit Europe. The rule envisaged in the beginning to protect local jobs of Europeans, has been making it difficult for the lucrative yachting market to cruise the Med. The '90 day' rule, meant that every 90 days visiting cruising sailors had to leave the Schengen area, even though their boats could stay for 18 months or longer with extensions.
The Schengen area is made up of 22 EU member states plus Switzerland, Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein. There is one single visitor visa for the entire Schengen area. Bulgaria, Romania, Cyprus and Croatia are waiting to be given approval to join the area.
The aim of the revision is to shorten and simplify the procedures for those wanting to come to the EU for short stays, with the objective of boosting economic activity and job creation.
'Europe needs a smarter visa policy,' says Cecilia Malmström, European commissioner for home affairs. 'We need to attract more tourists, business people, researchers, students, artists and culture professionals to our shores.' And this, of course, includes cruising sailors, which is why the proposed alterations are, however, also attracting interest from members of the yachting community around the world.
It's been a bureaucratic nightmare for cruising sailors, particularly those from far afield in Canada, USA, Australia or New Zealand. They have been finding many ways to cope with the restrictions. This can be done by spending (and documenting) half the year in the UK, Morocco, Tunisia, Turkey, Albania, Montenegro or Croatia (until it joins Schengen).
The implementation of a relaxed visa would certainly put out Europe's welcome mat to yachtsmen, something European tourism associations would certainly welcome.
'Now,' concludes Malmström, 'we want to boost our economy and create new jobs by underlining the economic dimension in our visa policy, while keeping a high level of security at our borders.'
The proposals must now be approved by member states and the European Parliament. Because the current parliamentary term ends next month, approval is not expected until 2015.