The European Commission is considering whether to make US and Canadian citizens apply for visas before travelling to the EU, a move that could raise tensions as Brussels negotiates a trade pact with Washington.
Only Britain and Ireland have opt-outs from the 28-nation EU’s common visa policy and the European Commission must decide by 12 April whether to demand visas from countries who have similar requirements in place for one or more European Union state.
Washington and Ottawa both demand entry visas from Romanians and Bulgarians, whose states joined the EU in 2007. The United States also excludes Croatians, Cypriots and Poles from a visa waiver scheme offered to other EU citizens.
A regulation which entered into force on 20 December requires EU countries to “react in common” on visa matters, especially in cases where foreign countries “subjects [EU] citizens to differing treatment”.
“A political debate and decision is obviously needed on such an important issue. But there is a real risk that the EU would move towards visas for the two (Americans and Canadians),” an EU
Whether such a step would be practical, however, is in question given that it would seriously undermine the EU’s vast and lucrative tourist industry.
Canada’s visa policy is not based on reciprocity, that country’s immigration service said.
Romania and Bulgaria do not meet its criteria for free travel, which include migration issues, security of travel documents, public safety, border management and human rights, it said.
The US mission to Brussels highlighted that any proposal by the European Commission to introduce such visas could later be overruled by the European Parliament or the European Council – which brings together the 28 EU leaders – on the grounds of foreign policy, among other considerations.
However it is the European Parliament itself that has insisted on reciprocity in visa matters. As early as in 2012, the Parliament drew a list of third countries maintaining visa requirements on some EU countries.
When the EU regulation was adopted in December 2013, it was accompanied by a statement by several member states who said that while raising the issue, the EU countries would also “take into account potential adverse political consequences that might arise from such proposals or decisions for the external relations, both of the Union and its Member States”.
“This applies in particular to external relations with strategic partners,” says the statement, signed by Belgium, Germany, Estonia, Greece, Spain, France, Italy, Cyprus, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Hungary, Malta, the Netherlands, Austria, Portugal, Slovenia, Slovakia, Finland, Sweden, but also Poland, a country under US visa requirement.
The discussion will take place on Tuesday (12 April), just over a week before US President Barack Obama arrives in Europe on a visit that will include trade talks.
Trade negotiations between Brussels and Washington are at a crucial point since both sides believe their transatlantic agreement, known as TTIP, stands a better chance of passing before Obama leaves the White House in January.
Obama is due to visit Britain before meeting German Chancellor Angela Merkel at a trade fair in Hanover on 24 April.
“There are major question marks over TTIP, no one could now say exactly how it’ll go in the end. We’ll see if we can get Obama in Hanover to commit to more of what we want,” said one
European Parliament member tracking TTIP.
Romanian MEP Sorin Moisă (PSD) recently sent an open letter to the Prime Minister of Canada, Justin Trudeau, over the visa requirement for Romanians and Bulgarians
Following the publication of this article, the Commission confirmed that the issue will be on the agenda of the 12 April College meeting.