It is now the last chance for Europe to make the right decisions for its tourism sector. As has been underlined many times, 10 per cent of European GDP comes from tourism, while the sector provides nearly 10 million jobs across the continent.
However, decision makers act as if tourism was of domestic concern only, arguing that the European parliament and other European institutions have nothing to do with this vital industry. Following our recent journey to China, my colleagues and I returned to Brussels with experiences contradicting to this frequently made argument.
Our Chinese partners pointed out that - unlike Australia, Canada, Japan, and the US - Europe lacks a common and visible marketing-strategy. We are lagging behind our global competitors: self-promotion is weak and unsatisfying, and our unreasonable visa policies deter not only Chinese, but other overseas tourists alike.
More than 100 million Chinese tourists are planning their holidays abroad, with tens of millions of them willing and able to travel outside of Asia, but only a mere 3.5 per cent of them actually choose Europe.
An earlier study of the European commission showed that with the adequate visa policies Europe could create hundreds of thousands of new jobs, but at the same time we can potentially lose the same amount if we do not take the necessary steps.
What I personally struggle to understand is why European decision makers fail to make Europe more attractive as a tourist-destination, consequently ignoring the potential that these relatively wealthy tourists have to offer.
All this occurs despite economic growth and job creation being trumpeted as the main goals of the Juncker commission, with both constantly echoed in every single statement made by an EU official. We cannot consider tourism only a national issue anymore; a common, comprehensive European vision is needed, and it is needed now.
Therefore I am urging the community to liberalise and simplify the visa-acquiring process for tourists. In response to the critics who never fail to point out the negative impact this would have on our security, let's take a glance at the US example.
Although the United States is far more exposed to international terrorism than Europe, they issue visas for 10 years and also visas permitting multiple entry for Chinese citizens. Very often the terrorist threat is not even external, as recent events in Paris and Copenhagen indicate.
One of the projects of distinguished importance is the 'Silk Road - one belt, one road' development programme that stretches over multiple continents and concerns not only goods production and the services sector, but also tourism.
I honestly believe in the positive effect this project could have on our societies and on economic growth in Europe and beyond. I will keep working in order to make the Silk Road project a true success for Europe.