At the end of 2025, the Schengen countries will see the entry into force of the new European Travel Information and Authorization System. ETIAS, as it is also known by its acronym in English, is the electronic method for travel authorization with which the EU is taking a step already completed by countries such as the USA, Great Britain, Canada, New Zealand, or Australia (3). With it, travelers from foreign countries who do not require a visa will be able to enter the Schengen area with just a short online procedure.
The use of ETIAS, which will be mandatory by the end of 2025, is another step in the evolution and integration of EU migration policy. In a way, it is a symptom of greater cohesion in a continent that, 150 years ago, seemed closer to disintegration through war than integration.
In this article we will attempt to review the historical path leading up to ETIAS. The story of how it is possible that, in a matter of not many years, countries that were fighting each other now have common methods of regulating their borders.
Background: World War I
You don't have to go very far to find a situation antagonistic to the present one. Back in the 1870s, the Old Continent was a space plagued by atavistic quarrels, nationalism and exacerbated chauvinism. It was precisely this breeding ground, together with the concatenation of constant conflicts between European states, that led to the outbreak of the First World War.
It is estimated that the death toll of the Great War was between 40 and 60 million. And there, on the ashes of the most terrible conflict mankind had ever seen, appeared the first visionaries who proposed a kind of pan-European community. It is often said that the first was Richard Coudenhove-Kalergi, an Austrian politician who published the manifesto entitled Pan-Europe, the germ of the Pan-European International Union. He was followed by Gustave Stresemann and Aristide Briand, who were responsible for the Locarno Agreements.
However, it was all in vain. The Second World War came, the bloodiest of all with its 80 million fatalities, born in the heart of Europe. And then came the turning point.
From the mint to the treaty of Rome
After the end of World War II, Europe was in devastation. Exiles and emigrants from the south —Spain, Greece, France— were beginning to march to the rich north. The US and the Soviet Union were emerging as the new global powers. And in this context, the French foreign minister, Robert Schuman, took up the baton from Kalergi, Stresemann and Briand. He did so with the crucial Schuman Declaration of May 9, 1950.
On that date, now commemorated as Europe Day, Schuman proposed the creation of a union between France and Germany for the production of steel and coal, key materials for the arms industry. The plan was to open up to more countries and the free movement of goods, capital and people, thus increasing the common economic interests between European countries and decreasing the likelihood of war.
In 1951, the plan that began with the Schuman Declaration materialized. Germany, France, Italy, the Netherlands, Belgium and Luxembourg joined together under the ECSC (European Coal and Steel Community), the first pan-European union. Success was confirmed in 1957 with the signing of the Treaties of Rome. The EEC (European Economic Community) was created and the six founding countries set the goal of achieving a "common market". Of goods and capital, of course. But also for people. This is the seed of ETIAS.
Free movement of workers: Bosman Act
The ECSC agreement had granted the right of free movement for coal and steel workers throughout the countries of the community, but the Treaty of Rome extended this right. The objective, twelve years ahead, was the implementation of freedom of movement of workers within the EEC countries. This was achieved ahead of schedule: on November 8, 1968, when EEC Regulation 1612/68 came into force.
From that foundational moment of unity among Europeans, any EEC citizen could work in another member country under the same conditions as a national of that state. Borders began to blur.
Perhaps the most paradigmatic example of this achievement was the Bosman case. Jean-Marc Bosman was a Belgian League soccer player in the 1990s who, after finishing his contract, refused to allow the Belgian League to claim payment from Dunkerke of the French League, the club to which he wanted to leave. The courts eventually ruled in his favor, and sports federations were also required to comply with EU labor regulations. A team could have as many EU players as it wanted.
With the Bosman case, one of the last borders within the EU for workers disappeared, even in sport.
At that time, in the mid-1990s, the Schengen Agreement had already been signed. Initiated by five countries with common borders —France, Germany, Belgium, Luxembourg and the Netherlands— the aim of the Schengen Agreement was to do away with borders within the European Union itself, both for nationals and foreigners. Those lines that had caused so much bloodshed, which had been fought for over the last hundred years, were beginning to disappear.
Other European states progressively joined the Schengen Agreement, including some that were not part of the European Union. Italy in 1990, Spain and Portugal in 1991, Greece in 1992, Austria in 1995 and Norway, Denmark, Iceland, Finland and Sweden in 1996. In the 21st century, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Hungary, Malta, Poland, Slovenia and Slovakia joined Schengen. For their part, Bulgaria, Cyprus, Romania and Croatia are currently awaiting a future obligatory incorporation when the EU deems it suitable.
With Schengen, any person, foreign or not, can move throughout the Schengen area without having to present a passport or similar at the border. Now, as a way to advance this integration, ETIAS will create a new common requirement for travel to Schengen countries.
ETIAS and the likelihood of recasting
For years, the Schengen countries have had a list of countries that do not require a visa to enter them. Whether or not a state is part of this group depends on several factors, such as stability or political and social power —the case of the USA, Canada, or Japan—, its geographical proximity to the EU —Great Britain—, or its cultural ties. Fifteen Latin American countries form part of this group.
Now, what is established with ETIAS is a previous procedure for travelers from these countries, who will have to apply online for their authorization to travel to Schengen. Thus, this new electronic system for travel authorization will be part of the requirements to travel to Spain —and to all Schengen countries—, as long as you are a citizen of the group of countries included in the visa waiver program.
The aim of ETIAS is to reinforce the inviolability of the Schengen area's borders, while allowing citizens of countries that are part of the visa waiver program not to have to suffer such increased security. It is also a new step in the integration of the policies of a territory that until not so long ago, less than a century ago, was still mired in internal wars.
Now, it remains to be seen whether the new wave of extreme right-wing parties that has taken over the European political context does not end up undermining the evolution of the last 150 years, forcing the reinforcement of borders that already seemed closed. Because, as we know, despite the success of ETIAS, any evolution is always likely to provoke a step backwards.