Europe Gives U.S., Canada More Time to End Visa Discrimination

  • EU shows continued reluctance to take retaliatory steps
  • Visa-free travel sought for citizens of five EU nations

The European Union kept in check a threat to require visas for Americans and Canadians traveling to Europe, seeking more time for a diplomatic solution to a nagging trans-Atlantic dispute.

The European Commission refrained for the second time this year from pushing for the retaliatory move, which EU law foresees because the U.S. and Canada have refused to waive obligations for citizens of some countries in the bloc. In mid-April, when facing an initial deadline to act, the commission pledged to return to the matter by July 13.

“In the past three months, we have intensified contacts with the U.S. and Canada to push for full visa-waiver reciprocity,” EU Home Affairs Commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos told reporters on Wednesday in Brussels. “With goodwill and in good faith, we can resolve this problem soon.”

Europe is citing U.S. political sensitivities in the run-up to the country’s presidential election in November and headway in talks with Canada as justifications for sidestepping clashes with Washington and Ottawa.

“With the United States, we are aware of the electoral timetable and have to take this into account when we consider the most appropriate way forward,” Avramopoulos said. Canada, he said, is offering a “clear perspective of progress in the months to come.”

As a result of European legislation two years ago on a common visa policy, the commission faced an April 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.

The U.S. is in the EU’s crosshairs because Washington requires visas for visitors from Poland, Romania, Bulgaria, Croatia and Cyprus while Americans benefit from the bloc’s waiver. Ottawa imposes visa obligations on Romania and Bulgaria while Canadians enjoy the EU’s exemption.

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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