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EUROPEAN UNION

GM to keep all German Opel plants open

General Motors has decided to keep open all four of its Opel plants in Germany, the US carmaker's interim Europe chief Nick Reilly said on Tuesday.

GM to keep all German Opel plants open
Photo: DPA

After already giving assurances that plants in Bochum, Kaiserslautern and Rüsselsheim would not be shut down, Reilly promised Opel’s facility in Eisenach in the eastern state of Thuringia would also remain open.

“We value our Eisenach operations very highly,” Reilly said, calling them a “long term resource” for Opel. “It’s a highly efficient plant and the people who are working there are very innovative.”

Despite abandoning plans to sell its loss-making European operations, GM still intends to slash capacity by around 20 percent with the loss of nearly 9,000 jobs across Europe.

Klaus Franz, head of Opel’s German works council, said that GM wanted to cut a total of 8,684 jobs across Europe, including around 7,200 in Germany and Belgium, 900 in Spain and 354 in Britain at Vauxhall’s Luton plant.

The German cuts included 1,800 at its Bochum plant, 2,500 at Rüsselsheim, 300 at Eisenach and 300 at Kaiserslautern. The Vauxhall facility at Ellesmere Port would be unaffected, as would Gliwice in Poland, Franz said.

“The competition in this industry is intense and getting fiercer every day and we have to reduce our structural costs so we can make money in a lower market,” said Reilly.

Reilly said Opel needs around €3.3 billion ($5.0 billion) in funding in the coming two years. GM wants European countries like Germany, Britain, Poland and Spain where it also has factories to provide the money, but it said on Monday that it would restructure the auto maker without state help if needed.

Germany came under fire from other European governments for offering €4.5 billion in state aid to support GM’s original plans to sell Opel, which includes Vauxhall in Britain, to Canada’s Magna and Russian lender Sberbank.

Other countries believed that Berlin was offering the money in order to ensure that Germany would be spared large-scale job cuts or plant closures. GM has since walked away from the deal, to Germany’s consternation.

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VISAS

REVEALED: EU plans digital-only Schengen visa application process

Soon those non-EU nationals requested to have a Schengen visa to travel to European countries will no longer need to go to a consulate to submit the application and get a passport sticker, but will be able to apply online. 

REVEALED: EU plans digital-only Schengen visa application process

The European Commission has proposed to make the Schengen visa process completely digital.

The special visa, which allows to stay for tourism or business (but not work) in 26 European countries for up to 90 days in any 6-month period. 

Nationals of third countries such as South Africa, India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka need the Schengen Visa to visit Europe, but they are not needed for other non-EU nationals such as Britons or Americans. You can see the full list of countries who need a Schengen visa here.

The proposal will have to be approved by the European Parliament and Council, but is in line with an agreed strategy that EU governments are keen to accelerate in the aftermath of the pandemic. 

Once agreed, the system will be used by the countries that are part of the border-free Schengen area. These include EU countries, excluding Ireland (which opted out), and Bulgaria, Romania, Croatia and Cyprus (which do not issue Schengen visas). Iceland, Norway, Lichtenstein and Switzerland, which are not EU members but have signed the Schengen Convention, will be part of the new system too.

Paper-based processes required applicants to travel to consulates to submit the application and collect their passports with the visa, a procedure that “proved problematic during the COVID-19 pandemic,” the Commission said.

Some EU countries have already started to switch to digital systems but not all accept online payments for the visa fees. 

When the new system will be in place, the Commission says, applicants will be able to check on the EU Visa Application platform whether they need a visa. If so, they will create an account, fill out the application form, upload the documents and pay. 

The platform will automatically determine which Schengen country will be responsible for the application and applicants will be able to check their status and receive notifications. Travellers will then be able to access the visa online, and if needed extend it too.

“Half of those coming to the EU with a Schengen visa consider the visa application burdensome, one-third have to travel long distance to ask for a visa. It is high time that the EU provides a quick, safe and web-based EU visa application platform for the citizens of the 102 third countries that require short term visa to travel to the EU,” said Commissioner for Home Affairs Ylva Johansson.

“With some member states already switching to digital, it is vital the Schengen area now moves forward as one,” said Commission Vice-President for Promoting our European Way of Life, Margaritis Schinas.

However, first-time applicants, people with biometric data that are no longer valid or with a new travel document, will still have to go to a consulate to apply.

Family members of citizens from the EU and the European Economic Area, as well as people who need assistance, will also be able to continue to apply on paper. 

The EU Visa Application platform will be used from third countries whose nationals must be in possession of a visa to enter the EU and is different from the ETIAS (European Travel Information Authorisation), which is currently under development.

The ETIAS will be used by non-EU nationals who are exempt from visas but who will need to apply for a travel authorisation prior to their trip. This will cost 7 euros and will be free for people below the age of 18 and above 70. 

Based on the discussion between the European Parliament and Council, the Commission could start developing the platform in 2024 and make it operational in 2026. EU countries will then have five years to phase out national portals and switch to the common online system. 

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