Friday

22nd Jan 2021

EU and US edge toward visa fiasco

  • Juncker's hands on visas for "strategic partners" are tied by EU law (Photo: Filip Bunkens)

The European Commission will next week hold “political” talks on how to deal with a legal deadline for imposing visas on US and Canadian nationals.

The commission president, Jean-Claude Juncker, put the item on the agenda because he had to under an EU law from 2001 on “visa reciprocity”.

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  • Brussels attacks came as the US is in full swing on presidential election (Photo: Reuters)

The EU’s legal gazette, the Official Journal, back on 12 April 2014 published a notification that while US and Canadian nationals can go to any EU country without a permit, some EU citizens don’t enjoy the same perks.

The journal noted that people from Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Poland and Romania need visas to go to the US. It also noted that people from Bulgaria and Romania need visas to enter Canada.

Under the EU law, Juncker had up to 24 months to table the discussion. The talks are to be held on the last possible day, next Tuesday (12 April).

“There’s a legal deadline for us to take stock of the situation … and it is for this reason that president Juncker has put this item on the agenda,” commission spokeswoman Mina Andreeva told press in the EU capital on Friday (8 April).

The EU law also ties Juncker’s hands in other ways.

Andreeva added that “if non-reciprocity cases still exist on 12 April 2016” the commission will be “obliged” to adopt a legal act on “temporary suspension of the visa waiver for 12 months” for US and Canadian travellers.

Remote prospect

Some 12 million Americans visited Europe last year.

The prospect that they’ll have to get visas in future is a remote one for now.

The 2001 EU law doesn’t contain a deadline for when the commission has to adopt the act on freezing US and Candian visa privileges.

When it does, the big EU states in the EU Council, such as France, Germany, and the UK, who control large chunks of votes, would have to back it.

More than half the 736 MEPs in the European Parliament would also have to back it for the act to enter into life.

EU states and MEPs would have up to six months to make up their mind after the commission goes ahead. The suspension act itself can also stipulate a date of entry into force that is up to 90 days after it is adopted.

Politics and law

Andreeva underlined that the commission’s 12 April deliberation will be “political” in nature. She said the US is a “strategic partner of the EU” and that both sides are “working constructively” on a solution.

The statement, sources said, indicates that commission lawyers will try to wriggle out of a situation that risks causing annoyance to two of the EU’s best friends on the world stage.

But at the same time, there’s no indication that the US is preparing to budge on Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Poland or Romania.

“I haven’t heard anything to suggest it [a change of policy],” a diplomat from one of the five EU states told EUobserver on Friday.

Difficult time

The EU pressure for an American U-turn comes at a difficult time.

In the wake of the Paris terrorist attack last November, the US tightened security requirements even for the 23 EU countries that do have a visa-waiver.

They did it amid fears that “foreign fighters” - EU passport holders who trained with the jihadist group Islamic State in Syria or Iraq - could use the waiver programme to infiltrate the US.

Islamic State attackers with EU passports killed 32 more people in Brussels, the EU capital, on 22 March, catapulting security up the US election agenda.

An EU source said that while Juncker has no legal deadline to propose the “delegated act” on US and Canadian visas, in practical terms, he “can’t wait too long” after 12 April to take the step.

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US nationals could be forced to seek EU visas from mid-October. But the move would be a "disaster" for bilateral relations and would cost billions if implemented.

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Bulgaria and Romania want the EU to impose visas on US nationals. It probably won’t happen. But EU officials’ attempts to “wiggle” out of it haven’t gone down well.

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