Documents considered by the Committee on 21 July 2015 - European Scrutiny Contents


40 A uniform format for visas

Committee's assessment Legally and politically important
Committee's decisionNot cleared from scrutiny; further information requested
Document detailsProposal for a Regulation amending Regulation (EC) No. 1683/1995 of 29 May 1995 laying down a uniform format for visas
Legal baseArticle 77(2)(a) TFEU; ordinary legislative procedure; QMV
Department

Document numbers

Home Office

(36954), 10314/15 + ADD 1, COM(15) 303

Summary and Committee's conclusions

40.1 The purpose of the proposal is to make changes to a Regulation adopted in 1995 establishing a uniform format for visas. The changes proposed are intended to improve the security features of visas so that they are less prone to counterfeiting and fraud. All Member States are bound by the 1995 Regulation. Since then, the legal base for adopting EU measures concerning the format of visas has changed. Under the revised legal base, the UK is not bound by any changes to the 1995 Regulation unless it decides to opt into them. The 1995 Regulation has been modified twice, in 2002 and in 2008. The UK took part in the first modification, which incorporated a photograph into the visa sticker. The second modification adjusted the numbering on the visa sticker to make it compatible with the Visa Information System (VIS). As the UK does not participate in VIS, it did not opt into the second modification.

40.2 The latest proposal is subject to the UK's Title V (justice and home affairs) opt-in, meaning that the UK will only be bound by it if the UK opts in before the expiry of the three-month opt-in deadline or seeks to do so after the proposal has been adopted.[ 328]

40.3 The Minister for Immigration (James Brokenshire) explains that the UK has participated fully in work to improve the security features of the uniform format visa and sets out the factors the Government will take into account in deciding whether or not to opt into the changes proposed in the Regulation.

40.4 We note that there is some uncertainty as to the deadline for opting into the proposed Regulation and welcome the Minister's undertaking to inform us of the date at the earliest opportunity.

40.5 The recitals to the proposed Regulation indicate that it is subject to the UK's Title V opt-in Protocol. The recitals also indicate that, for Member States acceding to the EU since 2004 and for third countries associated with Schengen (Iceland, Norway, Switzerland and Liechtenstein), the proposed Regulation constitutes a Schengen-building measure. We ask the Minister to explain the reason for the difference in the source of the obligations created by the proposed Regulation and to confirm that the opt-in procedures set out in the Title V Protocol, rather than the opt-out procedures in the Schengen Protocol, apply in this case.

40.6 We also ask the Minister to address the consequences of a decision by the UK not to opt into the proposed Regulation and to provide an assessment of the risk that the UK might be ejected from the 1995 Regulation on the grounds that it would no longer be operable for other Member States. In addition, given that the factors informing the Government's opt-in decision include the risk that a uniform format visa may pose to the security of the UK and the limited ability to adapt the format to meet the UK's own domestic requirements, does the Minister consider that it would be desirable for the UK to continue to participate in the uniform format visa, and what are the advantages for the UK?

40.7 Pending the Minister's reply, which we expect to receive in good time to consider before the Government notifies its opt-in decision, the proposed Regulation remains under scrutiny.

Full details of the documents: Proposal for a Regulation amending Regulation (EC) No. 1683/1995 of 29 May 1995 laying down a uniform format for visas: (36954), 10314/15 + ADD 1, COM(15) 303.

Background

40.8 A uniform format for visas issued by EU Member States was introduced in 1995, based on Article 100c(3) of the then EC Treaty. At the time, it was envisaged that establishing a uniform format would pave the way to the harmonisation of visa policy which, in turn, would support the establishment of the internal market as an area without internal frontiers in which the free movement of people is ensured.[ 329] All Member States participated in the adoption of the 1995 Regulation.

40.9 The first substantial modification of the 1995 Regulation was agreed by the Council in 2002.[ 330] By that time, the UK had secured a Protocol to the EU Treaties ensuring that the UK would not be bound by EU measures concerning visas, asylum and immigration unless it chose to opt in. As the changes proposed were intended to improve the security features of the uniform format visa, the UK decided to opt in. By contrast, the UK did not opt into the second modification, agreed in 2008, as the changes largely affected Member States participating in the Visa Information System (VIS), an EU database processing data and decisions relating to applications for short-stay visits to the Schengen free movement area.[ 331]

40.10 The UK does not participate in the Schengen free movement area and, as a consequence, cannot take part in VIS. The UK similarly does not participate in the other elements of EU visa policy, including the rules determining whether nationals of third countries require a visa to enter the Schengen area for short stays of up to three months.

The proposed Regulation

40.11 In its explanatory memorandum accompanying the proposal, the Commission notes that there have been a number of recent forgery cases affecting Spanish, Austrian, German, Czech and Italian visa stickers. These have exposed the need for a new design with better security features which will be less susceptible to counterfeiting and fraud. A specimen illustrating the changes proposed is set out in an Annex to the Regulation (ADD 1). The proposed Regulation will be supplemented by a Commission implementing decision establishing detailed technical specifications for the new visa stickers. In order to reduce the risk of fraud, these technical specifications are to be kept secret and cannot be published. The Commission says that the changes it has proposed are urgent and can be implemented without increasing the cost of a visa.

40.12 The proposal is based on Article 77(2)(a) of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (TFEU) which authorises the EU to adopt measures concerning the common policy on visas. The recitals to the proposal indicate that it is subject to the UK's Title V opt-in. They also indicate that, for Member States acceding to the EU since 2004 and for third countries associated with Schengen (Iceland, Norway, Switzerland and Liechtenstein), the proposal constitutes a Schengen-building measure. The distinction between measures subject to the UK's Title V Protocol and those which fall within the scope of a separate Protocol concerning the Schengen acquis is significant. If the Title V Protocol applies, the UK is not bound by the proposal unless it decides to opt in. If the Schengen Protocol applies, on the grounds that the proposal builds on existing Schengen measures in which the UK already participates, then the UK is bound to take part in the proposal unless it notifies its decision to opt out. In both cases, procedural arrangements are in place to ensure that a decision by the UK not to participate in a subsequent amending measure does not make the original measure (in this case, the 1995 Regulation, as amended) inoperable for the other Member States.

The Minister's Explanatory Memorandum of 9 July 2015

40.13 The Minister notes that the current visa sticker has been in circulation for 20 years and "has become compromised in view of a number of serious incidents of counterfeiting and fraud". The proposed Regulation therefore seeks to establish a new common design incorporating modern security features. The Minister explains that the UK has been participating in the development of work to improve the security features of the uniform format visa and has sought to ensure that the proposed design "meets the highest possible technical standards, is interoperable across the EU and deliverable by our suppliers".[ 332] He adds:

    "The security of the EU visa and the UK visa is a key strategy in tackling illegal migration. However, the Regulations do impact on our ability to amend or introduce our own visa independent of the EU."[ 333]

40.14 The proposed Regulation is subject to the UK's Title V (justice and home affairs) opt-in. The Minister reiterates the Government's commitment to "taking all opt-in decisions on a case-by-case basis, putting the national interest at the heart of the decision making process". In reaching a decision, the Government will have particular regard to:

·  The risk that a uniform format visa poses to the security of the UK;

·  Whether the changes proposed meet the UK's own standards of quality and security, as well as the scope for the UK to change the format to meet its own requirements; and

·  The limits placed on the UK's ability to make changes to the format of the visa.[ 334]

40.15 The Minister anticipates that there may be "a small increase in costs" in producing a new version of the visa, but considers that this is likely to be offset by savings elsewhere (for example, contractual changes with the supplier and paper consolidation across all visa products). If the Council agrees the changes proposed, further work will be needed to define the technical specifications for the new uniform format visa. The Minister expects phased introduction of the changes to begin from January 2017.

Previous Committee Reports

None.


328   See Protocol 21 to the EU Treaties on the position of the UK and Ireland in respect of the area of freedom, security and justice.  Back

329   See Regulation (EC) No 1683/95.  Back

330   See Regulation (EC) No 334/2002.  Back

331   See Regulation (EC) No 856/2008. Back

332   See para 13 of the Minister's Explanatory Memorandum.  Back

333   See paras 9 and 10 of the Minister's Explanatory Memorandum.  Back

334   See paras 7 and 8 of the Minister's Explanatory Memorandum.  Back


 
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