Today is a “historic” day declared Colombia’s president Juan Manuel Santos this Wednesday as he signed the accord that will finally allow Colombian to travel through the European Schengen zone without requiring a visa.
The Schengen agreement, named after the Swiss town where it was signed in 1985, permits residents of each of the 26 signatory countries a free right of travel without a visa. Colombians, and, very soon Peruvians, will now have the same right through a zone that comprises the major European economies of Spain, France, Germany and Italy.
Santos spoke of the joy that will be felt by the “thousands and thousands of Colombians who would like to visit their families in Europe and have not been able to.”
— Juan Manuel Santos (@JuanManSantos) December 2, 2015
Prior to Wednesdays agreement Colombians who wished to visit Europe had to pass through a complex, costly and time-consuming visa application process.
Aside from the benefits of increased mobility between two continents that share significant historical and cultural links, Santos was also keen to highlight the symbolic importance of the move for a country which for many years has had a tarnished reputation for being a hub of the drugs trade and violent crime.
“This is an important step to reclaiming our dignity” remarked the president.
Of course the elimination of a visa requirement does not, alas, eliminate the need for money to travel.
In the wake of the recent terrorist attacks on Paris and Europe’s borders buckling under the strain of a mass influx of immigrants fleeing conflict in the Middle East, some question how long unrestricted movement through the Schengen zone will last, even for Europeans.
France has recently imposed indefinite controls along it’s borders and earlier this year Germany, Austria, Sweden and other countries implemented temporary controls to stem the tide of refugees arriving across the Mediterranean.
Despite these issues, however, the Schengen agreement remains something of a sacred cow for EU commissioners who view it as a concrete expression of the principle of freedom of movement which is a fundamental pillar of the EU project.
According European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker “Those who believe in Europe and its values, in its principles and freedoms must try – and try they will – to reanimate the Schengen spirit.”
Colombians travelling to Europe can most likely breathe a sigh of relief, as can Peruvians -when they are finally able get there. Peru’s visa waiver has been postponed until February with officials citing ‘technical issues’ in the issuing of the biometric passports that will be necessary to travel into Europe. Many Peruvians blame classic bureaucratic incompetency.