The issue of US visa policy and the efforts of EU-member countries to individually reach the abolition of visas for their citizens provoked a sharp exchange of views in the European Parliament on April 23, the TASR newswire wrote.
On behalf of the country holding the six-month rotating presidency, Slovenian Interior Minister Dragutin Mate told MEPs about the current state of negotiations. The EU Justice and Home Affairs Council last week approved a mandate for the European Commission that can thus negotiate with the USA about questions coming under the EU's jurisdiction.
Meanwhile, EU-member states can continue to negotiate with the USA independently on questions that fall under national jurisdictions. An agreement on this dual procedure was made after some EU-member states, including Slovakia, began to individually negotiate with the USA. This procedure evoked concerns in Brussels that the member states could commit themselves in bilateral agreements to terms that exceed the framework of current agreements between the EU and the USA. Specifically, an important concern was to ensure that US authorities do not gain access to information that the EU as a whole wants to keep confidential.
Vice-chairman of the EC Jacques Barrot, who is in charge of transportation, emphasised that the key question in negotiations with the USA would be the principle of reciprocity and the respect for basic rights. Barrot believes that the EU will manage to quickly attain the goal, namely the visa-free regime that will include fair treatment for all EU citizens.
The stance to the dual procedure divides MEPs. While the representatives of new EU-member countries whose citizens travelling to the USA need visa support this approach; several of their colleagues from old EU-member countries that have visa-free regime criticised the new member countries for a lack of solidarity and transparency. However, the representatives of the new member countries argued that it was the old member states that lacked solidarity. The most criticised country was the Czech Republic, which has initiated individual negotiations and signed a Memorandum of Understanding with Washington. However, Czech MEPs pointed out that it was only a reaction to the zero results coming from Brussels.
Slovak MEP Monika Beňová(Smer-SD) recalled that Slovakia had been a member of the EU for four years, and the Slovak citizens still could not travel to the USA without applying for a visa. The current situation is that EU-15 members (with the exception of Greece) don't need visas to travel to the USA, and Slovenia is the only new member of the EU to enjoy this right. The main stumbling block from Washington's perspective is to prevent so-called economic migrants from entering the US on travel visas. TASR
Compiled by Zuzana Vilikovská from press reports
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24. Apr 2008 at 7:00