Europe Steps Back From a Threat to Require Visas for Americans

  • EU weighs impact of retaliation over U.S. discrimination
  • Competing interests challenge common European visa policy

The European Union sidestepped a potential clash with the U.S. by holding off on a push to require visas for Americans traveling to Europe.

The European Commission asked governments and parliamentarians in Europe for guidance on such a move, which EU law foresees because the U.S. has refused to waive a visa obligation for citizens of five countries in the bloc. They are Poland, Romania, Bulgaria, Croatia and Cyprus.

The commission, the 28-nation EU’s executive arm, said it called on EU governments and the European Parliament “to urgently launch discussions and to take a position on the most appropriate way forward.” It set a July 12 deadline for feedback.

“We will continue pursuing a balanced and fair outcome," EU Home Affairs Commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos said in a statement on Tuesday in Strasbourg, France.

The EU goal of a full reciprocal visa waiver with the U.S. is running up against heightened American concerns about home-grown terrorists in Europe following deadly attacks in Brussels last month and in Paris last year. At the same time, retaliating against Washington’s visa discrimination by throwing up bureaucratic hurdles for American travelers to Europe would risk denting a drive by the EU and the U.S. to deepen trans-Atlantic ties through a free-trade agreement.

Visa-Free Travel

As a result of European legislation two years ago on a common visa policy, the commission faced an April 12, 2016, deadline to assess continued cases of discrimination by countries whose citizens benefit from visa-free travel to the EU. The law anticipates retaliation in the form of temporary visa requirements for travelers from the discriminating countries to all EU nations except the U.K. and Ireland, which aren’t part of the common European policy.

Canada is also in the EU’s crosshairs because Ottawa requires visas for visitors from Romania and Bulgaria while Canadians benefit from the bloc’s visa waiver.

To trigger the threat of retaliation, the commission would have to make a proposal that a weighted majority of EU governments or an absolute majority in the bloc’s Parliament could veto.

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