25th May 2020

Top MEP: EU 'must ensure visa waivers can be halted'

  • Manfred Weber suggested the EU make sure its ability to suspend visa-free travel is intact (Photo: European Parliament)

The EU should re-examine the emergency mechanism to suspend visa liberalisation for countries that fail to fulfil their obligations, the German leader of the conservative group in the European Parliament has suggested on Thursday (28 April).

“We have an emergency mechanism in place in Europe, if certain states persistently do not fulfil their obligations, then we are entitled to suspend visa waivers for those countries,” Manfred Weber, leader of the largest parliamentary group, the European People’s Party (EPP) said during a debate on the EU-Turkey deal in parliament.

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“We need to look at [the emergency mechanism] again, to see if it works quickly enough.

“That is a very important point in the context of the EU-Turkey agreement, and we have to make the people understand that it is possible in Europe.”

His comments came as it emerged that a Franco-German document suggests that EU governments should revamp the mechanism to allow the EU to quickly suspend or scrap visa waivers, if needed.

The current safeguard mechanism, which was included in 2013 in the EU visa regulation and has never been used, allows a visa agreement to be suspended "as a last resort" and for a limited period of time if there is a big increase in violations of visa conditions.

Those breaches could include people overstaying their visas in the EU, or a surge in asylum requests by citizens of the non-EU country concerned.

France and Germany have circulated proposals to ease the process for triggering a suspension of six months and allowing the EU to scrap visa-free travel if a country fails to fix persistent problems, The Wall Street Journal reported.

A EU source told EUobserver that several member states supported the Franco-German proposal.

"The ball is now in the commission's court to come up with a concrete proposal," the source said.

Visa liberalisation for Turkey has become a key issue under its deal with the EU aimed at stopping the flow of migrants into Europe.

Turkish leaders have repeatedly threatened to scrap the deal if EU countries fail to lift visa requirements by the end of June.

The EU commission has suggested it could propose visa-free travel for Turks as early as next week if Ankara has met all 72 requirements stipulated in the agreement.

Commission vice-president Frans Timmermans reiterated on Thursday that the EU executive would not water down those benchmarks for Turkey.

“The onus is on Turkey, they have to comply with the 72 benchmarks,” he told MEPs, adding: “We won’t play around with those benchmarks.”

As part of the EU-Turkey deal, EU member states have agreed to lift the visa requirements by the end of June if the benchmarks are met. That put in an awkward position several member states, including Germany and France, that have in the past been wary of granting visa-free travel for 75 million Turks.

The EU is also set to lift visa requirements for Ukraine and Georgia, meaning a total of roughly 120 million more people could be allowed to travel to the EU without a visa in the coming months.

Fearing the visa liberalisations could trigger increased illegal migration into Europe and prompt backlash from populist parties and voters, EU governments are looking for safeguards to exit the deals if necessary.

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