EU hopes Trump will back down on visa war
The European Commission is hoping that Donald Trump, the incoming US president, will back down in a potential visa war, but terrorist attacks in Europe could make that less likely.
The EU executive said in a statement on Wednesday (21 December) that it wanted to speak with his administration before imposing visas on US visitors to Europe.
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Under EU law, it was obliged to do so already in April because the US had missed a deadline to remove visa barriers for the last EU states that still had them - Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Poland, and Romania.
“We will continue keeping this issue high on the agenda with the new US administration”, EU home affairs commissioner, Dimitris Avramopoulos, said.
The commission said that the issue would be addressed at a meeting of “senior officials” from both sides “expected to take place in the first half of 2017.”
It promised to “report on further progress made before the end of June 2017.”
It repeated previous warnings that if the millions of US citizens who visit the EU each year had to obtain permits it would cost both sides a fortune and would have “significant negative impacts in a wide range of policy areas.”
It has also warned that the US would probably retaliate by imposing visas on all EU nationals.
Visa war unlikely
A full-blown visa war is unlikely because even if the commission went ahead, the move would likely be struck down by the EU Council, which represents member states.
Croatian, Cypriot, and Polish diplomats previously said they would prefer to handle the issue bilaterally.
Bulgaria and Romania were more keen for the EU to apply collective pressure, but they would fall short of a majority in the Council's voting system.
The European Parliament, which would also get to vote on the issue, is more hawkish.
A parliament source said there was “full unanimity” among MEPs that the commission must impose visas on US nationals in order to comply with EU law.
Individual MEPs, such as Bulgarian socialist Momchil Nekov, have said that Trump, a real-estate tycoon, would respect the EU more if it played “hardball”.
MEPs also said, in a plenary debate earlier this month, that parliament should sue the commission in the EU court in Luxembourg if it failed to comply.
The handover in Washington from outgoing US president Barack Obama to Trump on 20 January is less likely to solve the dispute amicably.
Trump won the election, in part, by promising to clamp down on immigration and to beef up US security.
Andras Simonyi, a scholar of transatlantic relations at Johns Hopkins University in Washington, said this year’s wave of terrorist attacks in the EU would make the Trump team think twice before relaxing the EU visa regime any further.
“As terrorists now hail from almost everywhere in Europe, this will be a security issue first and foremost”, he said.
“The terrorist attacks are clearly not handled well from a security point of view by Europe. Too little is done too late and the EU does practically nothing, with mainstream politicians creating the illusion that safety is within reach. This does not help the visa waiver ‘applicants’,” he said.
Simonyi, who negotiated Hungary's US visa waiver in his former role as Budapest's envoy to Washington, added that Trump would react badly to EU “hardball” tactics.
“This is a bad idea cooked up in insular offices in Brussels by politicians who live in a dream world”, he said.
“Europe is not in the position to play hardball on any security related issue. The way to win his [Trump’s] respect is to start meeting the 2 percent threshold for spending on defence”, Simonyi added, referring to a pledge by Nato allies, most of which are also EU states, to spend at least that portion of their GDPs on their militaries.