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Re: Slovakia must meet criteria for visa regime, Flash news, October 19

In response to the News Flash regarding the criteria Slovaks must meet to "enjoy a visa free regime," I would like to point out the key problem with the follwing statement: "At present, to qualify for the visa-free regime, a country has to meet certain criteria. The main criterion is that the number of rejected applications for a visa must be below 3 percent. The criteria are at present not met by nine of the ten new EU countries (Slovenia being the exception), plus Greece."

This assumes, inaccurately, that consular officers at embassies throughout the European Union, follow established rules and guidelines exactly the same way, from officer to officer, country to country, embassy to embassy. In a perfect world, filled with perfect humans, they might, but consular officers are normal human beings, not computers, and they bring with them attitudes, prejudices, and a few (we can only hope a very small few) have their own axes to grind. There is an infamous example of a consular officer in Bratislava in the late 90s who would reject female applicants for being "too pretty," and some male applicants for being "too slick." It doesn't take many of these kinds of officers to seriously skew the stated criterion. It would not surprise me if the percentage of rejected applicants during her (thankfully brief) tenure was 50 percent.

This means that it is not improbable that a given country, say Slovakia, might, in any given year, see 10 or 20 or 30 percent of visa applicants rejected due to nothing more than who happens to be vice-consul that year. Three per cent is essentially ridiculous.

In other words, the 3 percent criterion is not fairly applied throughout the EU countries, particularly among the newest members, about whom there isn't the "comfort zone" that exists with the older, established members. When a British citizen walks into the door of the American embassy in London, he is seen differently than when a Slovak citizen walks into the American embassy in Bratislava. This doesn't require much attention to notice. In other words, the "guidelines" are simply not equitably applied.

The US government is not treating its friends among the new EU members fairly, and I am surprised that these countries put up with it. Is this how the United States wants to treat its best allies? Slap them in the face, and then ask for a bit more help. It is embarrassing to this American citizen to see Slovaks treated like third-class citizens, when they are steadfastly among Bush's "coalition of the willing." We ought to be ashamed. Slovaks ought to be (rightfully) angry.

Don Merritt, Berlin

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