The United States is pushing for a number of EU countries to transfer additional information on transatlantic passengers and allow armed air marshals on board US carriers flying to and from the bloc in exchange for visa-free travel to America.
Currently, 12 EU members, including Greece and all the countries that joined the EU after 2004 except Slovenia, are excluded from the US visa-waiver programme and the EU is getting frustrated by Washington's refusal to grant visa-free access to the Union as a whole.
"Visa policy is a community policy managed by the Commission," stressed EU justice and home affairs spokesman Friso Roscam Abbing.
What's more, the EU completed negotiations on the transfer of air passenger data to the US just six months ago, after years of disagreements over the amount of information that should be transferred and how long it should be kept (EurActiv 27/07/07).
In a final compromise, the EU agreed to allow airlines to transfer 19 pieces of information, including names, travel dates, full itinerary, billing data and baggage information, to US counter-terrorist agencies.
But Washington is now attempting to lure countries like Greece, the Czech Republic and Estonia to hand over extra data in exchange for the same visa-free access that Western EU citizens benefit from.
The Czech deputy prime minister in charge of European affairs, Alexandr Vondra, confirmed on 11 February that his country was conducting talks with the US but insisted that it was not violating any EU obligations.
However, the Commission is angered by the US attempt to bypass it by conducting bilateral negotiations.
"We don't negotiate matters that are dealt with in Washington with the state of California," said the Commission's Director General for Justice and Security Jonathan Faull on 13 February. "That would be disrespectful and we expect the United States to be similarly respectful of our law and system."
He further added that it was out of the question for Washington to dictate tougher restrictions than have been negotiated between the US and the Union as a whole to selected EU members.
"A text I saw [...] is unacceptable, is just way beyond anything that can be done. It is necessary that Washington realises that," he said.
He also hinted that the EU could consider retaliatory measures if the US continues to deny visa-free entry to European citizens.
"We have not imposed a visa obligation on any category of US citizen but our patience can't last for ever," he said, adding that he would discuss the matter with EU nations "at a very high level" in the coming days.