EU to demand US commitment to visa-free travel

The European Union will pressure the United States to commit to including all EU nations in its visa-waiver programme, officials said today.

Only 15 out of the EU’s 27 nations are included in the programme that permits people to enter the US without having to apply for a visa.

EU officials have long insisted visa waiver deals must be fully reciprocal, but US officials argue Greece and most of the new EU members still fail to meet all the criteria necessary for joining the scheme.

“Citizens of 12 EU member states still need a visa, even for short stays. The EU presidency is forcefully speaking to ensure that in future all EU citizens are included in visa waiver programme,” German Deputy Foreign Minister Guenther Gloser, whose country holds the rotating six-month EU presidency, told the European Parliament in Strasbourg ahead of the April 30 EU-US summit in Washington.

“There should be no split in the EU as to who has the right to travel to the United States without a visa. All member states should be treated equally,” Gloser said.

Inclusion in the visa waiver programme is a delicate issue for former communist countries that have joined the EU in the past three years and are close allies of Washington.

Slovenia is the only new EU member state to be part of the scheme, which comprises a total of 27 countries.

EU Social Affairs Commissioner Vladimir Spidla, who is from the Czech Republic, said visa requirements for citizens of eastern and central European countries were a form of discrimination.

“For American citizens visiting Europe there is no such impediment,” said Spidla, speaking on behalf of the EU executive.

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