Sunday

17th Feb 2019

US pledges to extend EU visa perks

  • Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Poland, and Romania still don't have visa waivers (Photo: Filip Bunkens)

EU ministers and US justice chiefs have pledged to improve EU nationals’ access to America despite Washington’s concerns about European jihadists.

They said in a joint statement adopted in Riga on Wednesday (3 June) they will, over the next five years, “accelerate” work on “trusted traveller programmes” and on US “pre-clearance” of EU travellers.

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  • Lynch in Riga declined to comment on the Fifa case (Photo: https://eu2015.lv)

They also pledged to keep working on “achieving full visa reciprocity as soon as possible in a secure environment”.

The trusted traveller programme allows “low-risk” visitors to the US to clear customs more quickly on arrival.

The US also has a visa waiver programme with 23 EU countries, but not with Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Poland, or Romania - a long-standing irritant in Poland, which sees itself as one of the US’ principal allies in Europe.

The Riga event, which takes place every two years, saw US attorney general Loretta Lynch and the deputy head of the US Department of Homeland Security, Alejandro Mayorkas, meet with the 28 EU states’ home affairs and justice chiefs.

Their joint statement also envisages more co-operation on counter-terrorism, data protection, money laundering, and cyber security.

They promised to work with Internet firms to “tackle violent extremists’ and terrorists' abuse of the internet” and to “enhance bilateral information sharing between the EU member states and the US Terrorist Screening Centre”.

They said they’d “explore ... possibilities for enhancing reciprocal law enforcement authorities’ access to the criminal records systems of their partners”.

On data protection, they also said they would, by 2020, “conclude the review of the Safe Harbour Framework and negotiations of the ‘Umbrella’ Agreement concerning law enforcement transfers of personal information”.

Real concern

The promise of better access for EU visitors comes despite worries over the 5,000 or more EU passport holders who have gone to fight with Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.

“There’s a real concern here that there are a lot of countries in the waiver programme, and if European foreign fighters come back, they could travel here on visa-waiver”, a US official, who asked not be named, recently told this website.

Dianne Feinstein, a prominent senator from the ruling Democratic Party, is currently working on a bill designed to overhaul the EU visa perks, which she has called “the Achilles’ heel of America”.

But Rihards Kozlovskis, Latvia’s interior minister, said Tuesday’s meeting “is a strong political message that we, the European Union and the United States, stand firm in the defence of our values, objectives, and interests”.

Dzintars Rasnacs, Latvia's justice chief, said “considering the geopolitical issues, this meeting was … an important step forward” in bilateral ties.

A European Commission spokeswoman told EUobserver the Riga event didn’t see debate on the commission’s migrant relocation proposal, which will be discussed on 15 June.

The US legal chief, Lynch, last week hit fame by indicting top Fifa officials on racketeering charges. But she declined to comment on the football scandal.

“It's an open case and so we will now be speaking through the courts,” she told media in the Latvian capital.

EU states could lose US visa waivers

US lawmakers preparing to vote on bill that could see select EU states lose visa waiver perks if they don’t comply with stricter security measures.

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