Forbes - Brussels seeks US visa waiver for all EU nations by October
Brussels seeks US visa waiver for all EU nations by October
03.13.08, 6:15 AM ET
BRDO PRI KRANJU, Slovenia (Thomson Financial) - The European Commission will launch talks with the United States aimed at securing visa-free US travel for citizens of all 27 EU member states by October, the bloc's top justice official said on Thursday.
'My proposal will be to go ahead with political discussions from now until June at a high political level,' said EU Justice Commissioner Franco Frattini as he arrived for EU-US justice talks in Slovenia.
He said the result of those discussions could allow the European Union 'to introduce a visa waiver programme for all the member states before October.'
Frattini was to meet US Secretary of Homeland Security Michael Chertoff near Slovenia's capital Ljubljana a day after Chertoff signed deals with Estonia and Latvia paving the way to visa-free travel to the United States for their citizens.
Tired of the slow pace of negotiations led by the commission, European Union's executive branch, the Czech Republic signed a similar accord with Washington last month, setting up a chain reaction.
Lithuania, Slovakia and Hungary are also ready to sign memorandums of understanding, which are part of the process of joining the US visa waiver programme but that do not alone guarantee entry to the scheme.
The issue has seriously undermined the bargaining powers of the commission, which is guardian of the European Union's treaties and has jurisdiction in visa reciprocity.
Without the waiver, currently only enjoyed by 15 EU member states, citizens from Greece and 11 of the 12 newest states -- Slovenia is the exception -- are obliged to have visas, even for a short stay, when they arrive on US soil.
But Chertoff, accompanied by US Attorney General Michael Mukasey, said he saw no reason not to keep signing individual deals as long as the countries that do so respect EU laws.
'We do arrange these (visa waiver agreements) with individual countries, but I think we can do it in a way that is consistent with EU principles,' he said.
He said the reports on differences between the European Union and the United States were 'much exaggerated' and added that he expected Thursday's meeting will bring 'some good news to talk about'.
Brussels is concerned that the memorandums could oblige countries to surrender far more information about their citizens than allowed under EU rules, and it has threatened legal action if any states cross that line.
Worldwide, the US visa waiver programme applies to 27 countries, including Australia, Singapore and Japan. Canadians and Bermudans do not require visas for short stays, while Mexicans are subject to a separate visa regime.