IMPALA and IAO propose new pass that would remove bureaucratic barriers for touring artists across Europe


July 8, 2021

The pan-European trade group for the independent music community, IMPALA, and the International Artist Organisation have teamed up to campaign for a new scheme across the continent of Europe that would remove some of the barriers that negatively impact on touring activity.

The two groups are proposing the creation of a GECAT Pass – or a pass that facilitates ‘Geographical European Cultural Area Touring’ – with the aim of reducing both the costs and administrative burdens for artists touring around Europe.

The scheme, IMPALA and IAO say, “involves creating a new cultural area with a single touring permit, instead of treating Europe as a number of distinct blocs and countries. The music market is geographic and covers all countries and economic/political groupings in the region including the European Union, the European Free Trade Association, EU neighbourhood countries, as well as individual countries such as the UK”.

Obviously, in the UK, the bureaucratic barriers artists face when touring Europe are a major talking point at the moment, because Brexit has put up a whole load of new bureaucratic barriers, none of which were dealt with by the UK’s new trade deal with the EU.

British ministers have agreed that those new bureaucratic barriers are a big issue for the UK’s music industry and have insisted that they will do everything they can to find ways to mitigate the negative impact of said new barriers. By which they mean they’ll do pretty much nothing – as chief Brexit negotiator David Frost basically admitted when he finally showed up to answer questions from concerned MPs on Parliament’s culture select committee last week.

However, it’s not just UK artists who face challenges when touring Europe. For example, there are those countries in Eastern Europe, especially in the Western Balkans, which are not yet EU members. And Switzerland, which is part of EFTA, but not part of either the EU or the European Economic Area. And even within the European Union – although artists benefit greatly from the free movement of people and goods – there are still technicalities to navigate around cabotage and tax rules.

As COVID regulations slowly start to lift across the continent, IMPALA and IAO say that some simple reforms that specifically benefit small and medium-sized tours could provide a huge boost to the music community as it seeks to recover from the impact of the pandemic.

There are four key elements to the GECAT Pass scheme, some of which would benefit artists in all countries, while others would primarily help those not currently based in EU or EEA countries.

Those key elements are: a single travel permit for performers and crews across the region; a single customs licence for equipment and a small amount of merchandise; a policy that allows unlimited stops for equipment and people involved in touring activity, possibly with limits on the number and size of vehicles; and a system that means VAT on merchandise sales would be paid in the artist’s home country. There are more details about all four proposals here.

IMPALA and IAO say that the GECAT Pass would – among other things – promote cultural exchange across Europe, help with post-pandemic economic and social recovery, increase opportunities for niche and emerging artists, and reduce the carbon footprint of touring activity.

Launching the proposals, IAO Chair Nacho García Vega says: “The idea of the GECAT permit scheme is a simple fix to the barriers faced by the music and cultural sector across multiple geographical blocs. The recent issues created by Brexit have highlighted the administrative problems relating to touring that were already faced by European artists based in non-EU countries. It’s not only about the transit of people and goods, it’s also about the free flow of ideas and artistic expressions, essential for peace and co-operation in the whole region”.

Meanwhile IMPALA Executive Chair Helen Smith adds: “The touring crisis creates new opportunities as long as we can provide the framework and assurances that different geographical blocs and countries need. The idea is to guarantee a level-playing field and make sure that all artists have access to the same touring opportunities, regardless of where they are based or their level of development. The European music market stretches beyond political and economic groupings, so the key is for all geographical blocs and countries in the region to participate”.

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