Thursday

28th May 2020

EU continues infighting on US and Canadian visas

  • US and Canadian travellers unlikely to suffer, even if the commission goes ahead (Photo: Khairil Zhafri)

Member states and MEPs are putting pressure on the European Commission to suspend Canadian and US visa-free travel just so they can reinstate it.

The Commission, back in April, had asked the EU Council, where member states meet, and the European Parliament (EP) to “take a position” on the issue by 12 July.

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  • MEPs and member states told Avramopoulos that "the ball is in his court" (Photo: European Commission)

The situation arose because, under EU law, Canada and the US had to lift visa obligations for all EU nationals in order for the Commission to maintain visa-free access for their citizens to the EU’s so called Schengen travel zone.

But Canada kept its visa barrier on Bulgaria and Romania, while the US kept it on Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Poland, and Romania, pending the outcome of bilateral talks.

The Commission had hoped that if EU states and MEPs issued negative “positions” on the political and financial consequences of a potential visa war, then it would no longer need to take action.

But the Dutch EU presidency, which chaired the EU Council until July, ignored its request on grounds that there was no basis in EU law for the Commission’s way of handling the affair.

The Slovak EU presidency, which took over last week, has taken the same view.

“The ball is in the Commission's court at this stage. It is a responsibility of the Commission to adopt a delegated act, based on which the Council will react”, an EU source familiar with the Slovak point of view told EUobserver on Wednesday (6 July).

The EP’s civil liberties committee, Libe, also refused to issue a position.

It wrote a letter to EU migration commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos urging him to adopt the legal act on suspending Canada and US visa perks so that the EP and the Council could vote on whether to ratify the move.

If the Commission adopts the act next week it is likely to prompt a backlash in American media amid the US election campaign.

But a second EU source said “if you explained the situation well - that we have legal rules on visa reciprocity, that the delegated act wouldn’t apply immediately, and that we are a European Union that must show solidarity with all its member states” then the fallout would not be that bad.

The Commission on Wednesday declined to “speculate” what action it might take after 12 July.

But the EU source said that if it does not adopt the act, then the Council, the EP, or any of the five affected EU states could take it to court at the EU tribunal in Luxembourg.

The visa dispute is in any case unlikely to end in travel restrictions for Canadians and Americans.

The Commission act would have to be ratified by a majority of MEPs and of EU states, but EP and Council sources said that Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Poland, and Romania would not get enough votes in either institution.

The EU source with knowledge of Slovakia’s view said: “Let's ask ourselves a question: Would it be politically sensible to enter a visa war with the US and Canada right now? We need to be intelligent.”

There is also lack of solidarity inside the visa victims camp.

A senior Polish diplomat told EUobserver on Wednesday that Polish authorities have accepted US “technical criteria”, even though average Poles feel that they are being discriminated against.

Under US law, Poland or any state has to attain visa refusal rates below three percent of all applications in order to qualify for a waiver.

Ceta veto

For their part, Bulgaria and Romania have threatened to veto an EU-Canada trade deal, Ceta, unless Canada gives way.

That threat became more serious on Tuesday when the Commission said that Ceta would have to be ratified by all 28 EU states’ national legislatures.

Bulgarian and Romanian diplomats were not available for comment on Wednesday, but EU sources said that Canada has launched a new “consultation process” with both states in order to allay concerns.

The Polish diplomat said the Ceta veto threat would act as an “incentive” for Canada to drop its visa requirements. The diplomat said “Bulgaria and Romania have made a clear point and they will keep making that point" at each step of the trade pact’s ratification procedure.

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