Parliament backs rules allowing suspension of visa-free travel only as a last resort 

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Reciprocity rules enabling the EU to reimpose visa requirements for nationals of countries that still impose them on EU citizens were adopted by Parliament on Thursday, in a revision of the EU visa regulation. Under the new rules, the EU will also be able to temporarily suspend its visa-free travel arrangements with third countries to halt substantial and sudden increases in irregular migrant numbers or unfounded asylum requests, but only as a last resort.

"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", said Civil Liberties Committee rapporteur Agustín Díaz de Mera (EPP, ES).

Enforcing visa reciprocity

The amended EU visa regulation deals 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, which was strengthened by MEPs in negotiations with the Council, should enable the EU to put more pressure on certain third countries to obey the visa reciprocity rule.

The USA, for example, 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 migration emergencies

The visa regulation now also includes a “suspension mechanism” to allow the EU to reimpose visa requirements temporarily in emergencies.

Visa waivers could be temporarily suspended "in emergency situation(s), as a last resort", in which a "substantial and sudden increase, over a six month period", in numbers of irregular migrants, unfounded asylum requests or rejected readmission applications had been detected, says the text.

"The suspension mechanism does not target specific third countries. It would provide a general framework for the future, and could be triggered for any country whose nationals are eligible to travel visa-free to the EU. The amendments to the visa regulation aim to preserve the integrity of the visa liberalisation process and ensure that visa-free travel to the EU does not lead to abuses", Mr Díaz de Mera said.

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. In doing so, it would have to take account of factors such as the number of member states affected, the overall impact of the increases on the migratory situation in the EU and the consequences of a suspension for the EU's external relations.

If the Commission were to decide that action were needed, then it would suspend the visa waiver for six months. This would be done via an "implementing act", of which Parliament would have to be informed.

Vote result: 328 in favour, 257 against, 46 abstentions.