• Balkan countries were happy to get rid of the cumbersome visa requirements (Photo: hangdog)

EU to allow temporary suspension of visa-free regimes

24.05.11 @ 17:44

  1. By Valentina Pop
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BRUSSELS - Travellers from the 41 countries and territories around the world enjoying a visa-free regime with the EU may in future have to endure cumbersome visa procedures if Brussels decides the system is being abused.

The European Commission announced Tuesday (24 May) that it would temporarily suspend countries from the visa waiver list if there is a sudden increase in asylum applications or illegal stays

The so-called safeguard clause would "make visa policy more efficient and allow us to react to unpredictable events," EU home affairs commissioner Cecilia Malmstrom said.

An EU member state would have to prove that it has a massive influx of illegally staying nationals from that country, meaning more than 50 percent over a six-month period for the suspension to be activated.

The same would apply if the member state proves that more than 50 percent of asylum applications in half a year came from a country where the asylum requests were normally below three percent. A third option for introducing the measure would occur when readmission applications from a country rise by over 50 percent over a six-month period, in comparison with the previous half year.

Malmstrom insisted that it would be only a "last resort" measure and that no particular country is targeted. But she mentioned Serbia and Macedonia as being currently "in dialogue" with the commission about how to address the problem of thousands of their nationals seeking asylum in EU countries.

"Hopefully it will never be used, but we need this mechanism. It is not directed against any country," the commissioner said.

The safeguard clause was the main condition for the Netherlands and France to accept the inclusion of Albania and Bosnia on the visa-free list in December. They wanted to avoid a repeat of what happened with Macedonia and Serbia. These countries were granted visa liberalisation at the end of 2009, prompting thousands of their citizens to apply for asylum in countries such as Belgium and Sweden.

As the EU's visa liberalisation regime is expanding to more and more countries, the EU commission wants to be able to react quickly to a sudden problem. Currently the system for removing and then possibly re-instating a country on the visa waiver list is a lengthy process.

The latest countries and territories to be included on the visa-free list are Taiwan, Albania and Bosnia. Eastern partnership countries such as Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine are in talks to receive visa liberalisation, while Russia is also pressing for the same regime.

And with the Arab Spring forcing an overhaul of EU's neighbourhood policy towards the southern neighbours, visa liberalisation has become a prospect for countries such as Tunisia and Egypt and possibly Libya, if Gaddafi is removed from power. Currently, only Israel is included on the visa-free list in that region.

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