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Travel

EU unveils security check plan for visitors

Visitors to the EU will face electronic checks despite being admitted as part of the visa-free program, the European Commission said. For a 5 euro charge, their details are to undergo EU security vetting.

The European Union unveiled its plan for a new security system to be applied to millions of short-term visitors from 60 countries who can currently visit Europe's Schengen area without each first applying for a visa.

Europe's security would be "enhanced," said EU Security Commissioner Julian King.

The United States installed a similar system, ESTA, after it was attacked by airline hijackers in 2001.

The intended European system - called ETIAS - would close information gaps made apparent by last year's terrorist attacks in Paris and Brussels, said European Commission Vice President Frans Timmermans.

10-minute task

The European Commission said would-be visitors would only need to spend 10 minutes filling out the electronic form. It would be valid for five years and multiple trips and cost 5 euros ($5.36).

Most visitors would get immediate approval, although some requests could take 72 hours to come through, the Commission added, and would apply, for example, to non-EU nations in the Balkans, such as Albania and Serbia.

It would "easy, quick, cheap and effective," Timmermans said, adding that visitor-supplied information would be checked against "all our other systems."

The scheme still needs approval from governments within the EU and from the European Parliament.

The self-financing system will generate set-up costs of 200 million euros, according to the Commission. It puts annual running costs at 85 million euros. 

Turkey, Ukraine want visa-waivers

The EU initiative coincides with long-standing bids by Turkeyand Ukraine for visa-free travel into Europe.

On Wednesday, Ukraine's parliament called on the EU to grant citizens of the former Soviet republic visa-free access to the 28-nation EU bloc.

Ukraine was still "standing in front of a closed door," said Leonid Yemets, a Ukrainian lawmaker with the People's Front group.

Germany and France have shown themselves to be cautious on any new visa waivers before the EU beefs up its emergency mechanism to suspend free-travel agreements if needed in light of recent gains by far-right parties.

Following British voters' decision to leave the European Union, EU Migration Commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos said Britons would also be subject to the security check following a Brexit.

"If the UK is not a member of the European Union, sorry to say it is still to be treated as a third country on this issue," Avramopoulos said. 

ipj/sms (AP, Reuters, AFP)

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