11 February 2008

Tough days ahead as US tightens border against Europe

The Bush White House has told the European Union and its 27 member states each will have to agree to allowing armed paramilitary members on all trans-Atlantic US airline flights from Europe to the USA.
Each state will also have to provide Washington with a full range of personal information about air travelers, even if the aircraft is not actually landing in the USA, but only overflying any US territory. This new data will include facts about family member who are not traveling. EU states already provide Washington with 19 bits of personal data about each traveler under a previous agreement. This goes a lot further, and the Europeans are speaking out. The previous Passenger Name Record (pnr) deal allows all sorts of data to be transferred, and airlines were threatened with loss of landing rights if they did not comply.
By this upcoming summer the US Department of Homeland Security will set up an electronic E-visa system for all Europeans traveling to the USA. All EU citizens will have to apply for the electronic permit to enter prior to getting an air ticket. At the moment this process is expected to take severeal days, and the cost remains unknown. A roughly similar system in Australia takes a few minutes. Once this is implemented by Washington against Europeans, it is probably only a matter of time before it is applied to Canadians.
The price for European states to not agree: their citizens will lose their visa-free status and be forced to apply for US visas the long hard slow way. The carrot here is Washington offering a visa-free status to newer EU members whose citizens do not now enjoy visa-free treatment, such as Czech Republic and Greece. In the end it will slow air traffic and lessen the number of travelers from Europe to the USA. Any retaliation, such as requiring visas from US citizens, would cut off an important segment of tourist traffic. No one wins, and the added checks do nothing to protect legitimate travelers from any hypothetical terrorist threat.