EU threatens to slap visa sanctions on US

24 July 2008
Highlighting the lack of progress towards obtaining visa-free travel to the US for all EU citizens, the Commission yesterday (23 July) warned that it may force American diplomats to apply for visas to travel to the European Union.

“No tangible progress has been made regarding the USA despite all the efforts of the Commission and individual member states. Citizens of twelve EU member states continue to require a visa when travelling to the USA,” the EU executive laments in its fourth annual report on third-country visa requirements, published on 23 July.

According to EU visa policy, a “reciprocity mechanism” requires third countries whose citizens enjoy visa-free access to the EU to reciprocally remove all visa requirements for EU nationals.

But the EU has been locked in negotiations with the US for several years in a bid to include all EU countries in the US Visa Waiver Programme, which is currently open to just 15 EU countries. Nationals of Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Greece, Cyprus, Latvia, Lithuania, Hungary, Malta, Poland, Romania and Slovakia are still excluded.

Washington has been refusing to grant visa-free access to US territory on a bloc-wide basis, saying it had to first ensure that each individual country fulfils its stringent security requirements. It has notably already signed separate bilateral visa deals with the Czech Republic, Estonia and Latvia.

But EU officials have accused the US of attempting to undermine the Union’s common visa policy and force individual countries to agree to additional security measures that are in violation with Union rules on aviation security and data protection (EurActiv 13/03/08).

In a press release issued with the report, the Commission reminds the US government that it committed, at an EU-US Summit last month, to including additional EU member states in its visa waiver programme before the end of the year, adding: “Therefore, the Commission will propose retaliatory measures – e.g. temporary restoration of the visa requirement for US nationals holding diplomatic and service/official passports – as from 1 January 2009 if no progress is achieved.”

Commission Vice-President Jacques Barrot, in charge of justice and security, justified the threat by saying: “It is unacceptable that nationals from some third countries can benefit from visa-free travel to the EU whilst some of our fellow EU citizens can’t travel visa-free to those countries. This is at the heart of our visa reciprocity mechanism and I am committed to ensuring that that principle is fully respected.”

The report also points the finger at Japan, Panama and Singapore, with the Commission suggesting retaliatory measures for the latter should full reciprocity not be achieved “within a reasonable time”. On the other hand, it points to the “significant progress” made by Australia and Canada.