EU retaliates in visa restrictions spat with US

As part of an ongoing investigation, the European Commision is assessing a “lack of visa reciprocity with the US, Canada, and Brunei” which could see restrictions on American tourists visiting Europe.


Britain is one of the European countries that benefits under the US visa waiver along with  “Full reciprocity” with Japan, the Commission explain, “in December 2015, and “with Australia in June 2015.”

However, according to the EU Commision, the US, Canada and Brunei “continue to apply visa requirements for citizens of some EU Member States,” despite the fact that their citizens benefit from an EU-wide visa waiver.

The EU’s Schengen area, includes 26 states, 22 of whom are EU Member states. Four countries,Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus and Romania are all legally obliged to join the area but currently need a visa to visit the US.

Under current rules adopted by the European Parliament and Council in 2001, if non-reciprocity by countries is not corrected in 24 months, then the EU has cause “for suspending the visa waiver for citizens” of the countries involved. After this 24 month period expires, the Commission is obliged to offer a response, and on 12th April, a deadline set by the EU legislator expired for the US, Canada, and Brunei.

However, the European Commission does advise that “any such decision must take into account the consequences of the suspension of the visa waiver for the external relations of the EU and its Member States.”

With the June 23rd EU referendum campaigns now underway, many in Britain are more focused on EU issues which could shape the way the Union does business with the rest of the world – both negatively and positively.

Dimitris Avramopoulos, Home Affairs, Migration and Citizenship Commissioner explained that “visa reciprocity is a fundamental element of the EU’s common visa policy,” adding that “EU citizens rightly expect to travel without a visa to any third country whose citizens can enter the Schengen area visa-free.”

The United Kingdom and Ireland, who are not part of the Schengen area will not be “bound by a visa waiver suspension” as neither participate in the “common visa policy”.

Nevertheless, the European Tourism Association (ETOA) has reacted angrily to the stance adopted by the Commission, claiming that it could Europe’s tourism industry millions of jobs.

Europe currently receives more tourist visitors than any other region, with 83 million in Paris alone. An ETOA estimate that leisure travel could fall by as much as 30% if visa restrictions are placed on the US and Canada, would therefore make many Europeans nervous of the Commission’s proposal.

Tom Jenkins, CEO of ETOA said “whilst we have every sympathy with the Commission, they are victims of their own process,” adding that “it is important that the European economy does not become a victim too.”

US and Canadian visitors are “an enormously important industry for Europe,” Jenkins explains, and “we effectively sell them services worth approximately €50 billion: it is an export industry on the same level as the automotive sector. Millions of jobs are dependent on it.”

The European Parliament and Council have launched a discussion to find the “most appropriate way forward” and will reconvene to discuss the issue by 12 July 2016 at the latest.


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