Members of the European Parliament (MEP) voted on a non-binding resolution this past week that would require U.S. citizens to obtain visas before traveling to or within the European Union (EU).
The vote came in response to an ongoing disagreement between the EU and USA regarding the Visa Waver Program (VWP). Under this program, U.S. citizens can travel to any EU nation visa-free and citizens from any EU nation are supposed to be allowed the same liberty when traveling to the U.S.
However, in 2014, the European Commission discovered that Australia, Brunei, Canada, Japan and the USA had been failing to meet their obligations under the reciprocity agreement which mandates that all EU nations be given equal access to visa-free travel. Since then, Australia, Brunei and Japan have changed their visa requirements to include all EU nations. Canada has promised to do the same by December 2017.
The USA, however, failed to alter its visa permissions to comply with the reciprocity agreement and continues to systematically deny equal inclusion in the VWP to five EU nations – Bulgaria, Croatia, Poland, Romania, and Cyprus. All other 23 EU nations have been granted visa-free access to the U.S.
A European Commission report released this past December states that the United States Department of Homeland Security is denying to include these five countries in the VWP due to the European nations’ failure to meet specific requirements set forth under U.S. law.
The EU responded in an ultimatum: until the U.S. agrees to accept visa-free travel from all 28 EU nations, U.S. citizens might lose their ability to travel into the EU without visas.
The European Commission has asserted that it does not want to ban visa-free travel for U.S. citizens and would rather continue negotiations with the States to find a diplomatic solution. But the resolution agreed upon this Thursday strongly urges visa-free travel for U.S. citizens to be revoked by the European Commission within two months. If the European Commission does comply within that time frame, the MEPs can take action in the European Court of Justice.
If visa-free travel is revoked from U.S. citizens, there remains the concern that the Trump administration may revoke visa-free travel into the U.S. from all 28 EU nations in retaliation, potentially destabilizing relations. Easy commerce, mobile employment, fruitful tourism and amicable foreign relations are all likely to be compromised.
It is important that the European Commission and the USA work together to reach an agreement regarding the Visa Waver Program. If no amenable solution are found, all U.S. and EU citizens risk a big loss.