Saturday

23rd Mar 2019

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.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Support quality EU news

Get instant access to all articles — and 18 year's of archives. 30 days free trial.

... or join as a group

  • 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.

EU chokes on US visa dispute

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.

Slovakia puts squeeze on free press ahead of election

Smer, Slovakia's ruling party, wants the country's media to give politicians a right-of-reply, or face stiff fines. Advocates of a free press are alarmed, and it poses a problem for the European Commission, whose vice-president is a Smer presidential candidate.

News in Brief

  1. EU leaders at summit demand more effort on disinformation
  2. Report: Corbyn to meet May on Monday for Brexit talks
  3. Petition against Brexit attracts 2.4m signatures
  4. Study: Brexit to cost EU citizens up to €40bn annually
  5. NGOs demand France halt Saudi arm sales
  6. Report: Germany against EU net-zero emissions target
  7. Former top EU official takes job at law firm
  8. Draft text of EU summit has Brexit extension until 22 May

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersNew campaign: spot, capture and share Traces of North
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersLeading Nordic candidates go head-to-head in EU election debate
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersNew Secretary General: Nordic co-operation must benefit everybody
  4. Platform for Peace and JusticeMEP Kati Piri: “Our red line on Turkey has been crossed”
  5. UNICEF2018 deadliest year yet for children in Syria as war enters 9th year
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic commitment to driving global gender equality
  7. International Partnership for Human RightsMeet your defender: Rasul Jafarov leading human rights defender from Azerbaijan
  8. UNICEFUNICEF Hosts MEPs in Jordan Ahead of Brussels Conference on the Future of Syria
  9. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic talks on parental leave at the UN
  10. International Partnership for Human RightsTrial of Chechen prisoner of conscience and human rights activist Oyub Titiev continues.
  11. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic food policy inspires India to be a sustainable superpower
  12. Nordic Council of MinistersMilestone for Nordic-Baltic e-ID

Latest News

  1. Italy takes China's new Silk Road to the heart of Europe
  2. What EU leaders agreed on climate - and what they mean
  3. Copyright and (another) new Brexit vote This WEEK
  4. EU avoids Brexit crash, sets new date for 12 April
  5. Campaigning commissioners blur the lines
  6. Slovakia puts squeeze on free press ahead of election
  7. EPP suspends Orban's Fidesz party
  8. Macron is confusing rigidity with strength

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Counter BalanceEU bank urged to free itself from fossil fuels and take climate leadership
  2. Intercultural Dialogue PlatformRoundtable: Muslim Heresy and the Politics of Human Rights, Dr. Matthew J. Nelson
  3. Platform for Peace and JusticeTurkey suffering from the lack of the rule of law
  4. UNESDASoft Drinks Europe welcomes Tim Brett as its new president
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic ministers take the lead in combatting climate change
  6. Counter BalanceEuropean Parliament takes incoherent steps on climate in future EU investments
  7. International Partnership For Human RightsKyrgyz authorities have to immediately release human rights defender Azimjon Askarov
  8. Nordic Council of MinistersSeminar on disability and user involvement
  9. Nordic Council of MinistersInternational appetite for Nordic food policies
  10. Nordic Council of MinistersNew Nordic Innovation House in Hong Kong
  11. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Region has chance to become world leader when it comes to start-ups
  12. Nordic Council of MinistersTheresa May: “We will not be turning our backs on the Nordic region”

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us