‘Taxation without Representation’: European Union Up in Arms over US Travel Tax
September 29, 2010
Fourteen dollars may not sound like a lot. But this autumn, the sum — in the shape of the new fee being charged by the United States to some overseas visitors coming into the country — is proving enough to inflame tempers in the European Union. This month, an increasing number of members of the European Parliament and other EU officials are blasting the charge for being both incongruous and for running counter to US-EU agreements.
“I think it is a bit bizarre to introduce a tax to promote tourism,” intoned Alexander Graf Lambsdorff, a member of European Parliament with Germany’s business-friendly Free Democratic Party during a recent debate on the issue in Strasbourg. In addition to pointing out that such a tax could actually dissuade people from traveling to the US, Lambsdorff also said “it seems a bit absurd that the US of all countries would tax people who are not represented in this debate. Taxation without representation, I believe, has played a certain role in American history.”
At issue is the so-called Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA), a $14 fee which travelers from 36 countries now have to pay prior to visiting the US. While $4 dollars of the fee is to be for ESTA administrative costs, $10 is to pay for US efforts to promote the US as a tourism destination. Travelers to the US, in effect, are being asked to pay for the advertising aimed at encouraging them to travel to the country.
European Commissioner for Home Affairs Cecilia Malmström reacted immediately when the US officially announced in early August that the fee was going to come into effect in September. “I regret very much the fee,” she said in a statement at the time. “I remain convinced that these new requirements … are inconsistent with the commitment of the US to facilitate trans-Atlantic mobility.”
Now, the EU is exploring the possibility of introducing a similar system for travellers from the US, according to the European Commission for Home Affairs. A “policy study” is currently being undertaken to investigate the feasibility of such a fee…