I was too fast with my answer.

applicationname: ""
description: ""

 - applicationname

This workes:

- name: check required vars empty
  fail: msg="Variable '{{ item }}' is empty"
  when: vars[item] == ""
  with_items: "{{ required_vars }}"

This too:
- name: check required vars null
  fail: msg="Variable '{{ item }}' is null"
  when: vars[item] is none
  with_items: "{{ required_vars }}"

But this doesn't work:
- name: check required vars undefined
  fail: msg="Variable '{{ item }}' is null"
  when: vars[item] is not defined
  with_items: "{{ required_vars }}"

TASK [role1 : check required undefined] 
skipping: [server1] => (item=applicationname)  => {"changed": false, 
"item": "applicationname", "skip_reason": "Conditional result was False"}

I think
vars[item] is not defined
does not work because the variable "applicationname" in fact does have a 
value: "{{ APPLICATIONNAME }}"

TASK [role1 : debug] *******************************************************
ok: [server1] => {
    "vars": {
       "applicationname": "{{ APPLICATIONNAME }}"

TASK [role1 : debug] 
ok: [server1] => {
    "applicationname": "VARIABLE IS NOT DEFINED!"

Any suggestions?

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