US faces Brussels visa regime as transatlantic tensions mount
Citizens of the US and Canada could be stripped of their automatic right to travel to the European Union visa free within months.
The move won't directly affect Ireland or the United Kingdom, which have both opted out of the European Union's common visa system.
The European Commission yesterday said it has asked member state governments and the European Parliament to decide by July 12 what action should be taken against the US, Canada and the tiny Asian Kingdom of Brunei for failing to grant visa waivers for some EU citizens. An EU-imposed deadline for the three countries to apply a single visa regime for most European Union member states passed yesterday, without action.
Law makers in Washington and Ottawa both demand entry visas from Romanians and Bulgarians. The United States also excludes Croatians, Cypriots and Poles from a visa waiver scheme that applies to most other EU citizens.
In theory the EU could now seek to force US and Canadian citizens to apply for visas before travelling to the EU.
Only Britain and Ireland have opt-outs from the EU common visa policy.
Insisting US citizens apply for visas risks raising transatlantic tensions just as officials in Brussels negotiate a trade pact with Washington. It would also happen against a background of push-back from the EU over the tax affairs of big US technology firms in particular.
Canada has said its visa policy is not based on reciprocity.
It insists on visas for those travelling from Romania and Bulgaria because the two countries do not meet its criteria for free travel, which include migration issues, security of travel documents, public safety, border management and human rights, it says.
US officials say any proposal by the European Commission to introduce visas could be overruled by the European Parliament or the European Council, including on foreign policy grounds.
Any action taken by European nations against the US in particular would be challenging. The sheer number of US business and leisure visitors to the EU mean a visa regime would be impractical.
Making it hard to travel would hurt the EU tourist industry. It accounts for around 10pc of the total EU economy and has already been hit by falling demand in the wake of the Paris and Brussels bombings. (Additional reporting Reuters)