October 9, 2008
EUOBSERVER / BRUSSELS – The United States are set to extend a visa-free regime to a number of east European countries, with the decision likely to be announced as soon as next month.
Speaking after a meeting with his Slovak counterpart Ivan Gasparovic on Thursday (9 October), US president George Bush said he expected “a positive decision for the people of your good country” to be made in “mid-November.”
Six EU member states are expected to achieve visa-free access to the US around the same time (Photo: EUobserver.com)
The 17th of November has been cited as a possible date for abolishing travel barriers due to its symbolic importance. On the same day in 1989, the former Czechoslovakia saw the beginning of the so-called Velvet Revolution, leading to the collapse of communism there.
“Slovakia has made a lot of progress on visa waiver,” the White House chief added, with diplomats suggesting Bratislava has succeeded in getting well below 10 percent when it comes to the visa refusal-rate.
The rate was the remaining criterion – as well as the most difficult one – to be fulfilled by the visa-free hopeful.
Also to win the US nod, Bratislava and Washington signed earlier this week (8 October) two documents aimed at boosting co-operation in the fight against terrorism and serious crime by, among other things, sharing information on terrorists and terrorist suspects, including DNA and fingerprint data.
“It will enable law enforcement officials on both sides of the Atlantic to investigate crime more efficiently and more quickly and will help us work together to prevent criminals and terrorists from travelling,” US Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff said about the agreement.
“We’re taking another major step forward to the goal of expanding the Visa Waiver Program and welcoming the Slovakian people into the program,” he added.
The Czech Republic is expected to take on the same comittement at the end of this month, while “a similar agreement” has also been signed with Germany – although the country enjoys restriction-free travel to the US.
Apart from Slovakia and the Czech Republic, other EU member states Estonia, Hungary, Latvia and Lithuania are expected to achieve visa-free access to the US around the same time.
Mr Chertoff acknowledged that Washington is talking to “a number of different countries.” “We’re hopeful that at least a certain number can be admitted in the first group and maybe another number in the second group … I do think we are very close to being able to make some admissions,” he said.