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Press release

EU must be enabled to enforce visa reciprocity, say Civil Liberties MEPs

Visa policy - 08-04-2013 - 18:51
Committee : Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs
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Reimposing visa requirements on nationals of third countries that fail to remove them for EU citizens would be made easier by visa reciprocity rule changes voted in the Civil Liberties Committee on Monday. The EU could also temporarily suspend its visa-free travel rules to halt "substantial and sudden increases" in irregular migrant numbers or unfounded asylum applications, but only as a last resort, MEPs added. But these changes have first to be agreed with EU member states.

“The reciprocity principle that a third country benefitting from an EU visa waiver must extend the same treatment to EU citizens is a key feature of the EU's common visa policy”, stressed rapporteur Agustín Díaz de Mera (EPP, ES).

Enforcing visa reciprocity

MEPs amended a proposed update of the EU visa regulation to strengthen a “reciprocity mechanism” for dealing with third countries that persist in requiring EU citizens to obtain visas, even though their own citizens are exempt from EU visa requirements. This mechanism should enable the EU to put more pressure on third countries to obey the visa reciprocity rule.

If, despite EU diplomatic steps, a third country refuses to lift its visa requirement for EU citizens, the European Commission may, at the request of a member state or on its own initiative, propose to temporarily suspend the EU visa waiver for nationals of that country. However, the Commission must also consider the possible consequences for the EU's external relations, say MEPs.

For example, the USA currently requires visas for EU citizens from Bulgaria, Cyprus, Romania and Poland, and Canada requires them for those from the Czech Republic, Bulgaria and Romania.

Reimposing visas in emergencies

The amended visa regulation also includes a “suspension mechanism” to allow the EU to reimpose visa requirements temporarily in emergencies. This was inserted by the Commission at the request of EU member states that faced big influxes of asylum seekers after visa requirements were lifted for citizens of some countries.

However, visa waivers could be temporarily suspended only as a last resort, in "emergency situations" in which a "substantial and sudden increase" in numbers of irregular migrants, unfounded asylum requests or rejected readmission applications had been detected, MEPs stress.

Member states facing an emergency situation would have to notify the European Commission, which would assess the possible need to suspend visa-free travel rules for nationals of a given third country.

The Commission's assessment would have to take account of the number of member states affected, the overall impact of the increases on migrant numbers in the EU and public policy and internal security issues.

If the Commission were to decide that action were needed, then it could activate the suspension mechanism for one year. This would be done via a "delegated act" to which the European Parliament would have the right to object.

If problems were to persist, the Commission could propose to move a third country from the EU’s “positive list” to its “negative list” so that its nationals would always have to obtain visas to travel to the EU. This change would have to be approved via the ordinary legislative procedure (co-decision by the European Parliament and the Council of Ministers).

Next steps

The proposed amendments to the EU visa regulation need to be agreed by Parliament and the Council. Tomorrow, Tuesday, the rapporteur will meet the shadow rapporteurs in order to define the next steps, including the possibility of scheduling the next three-way meetings with the Commission and the Council.

 Result of the vote: 33 in favour, 7 against, 3 abstentions

In the chair: Kinga Gál (EPP, HU)

REF.: 20130408IPR07104