EU agrees to start visa-free talks with US

April 19th, 2008 - 12:46 am ICT by admin  

Luxembourg, April 18 (DPA) EU interior ministers agreed Friday to let the bloc launch talks on visa-free travel with the US, almost two months after seven member states broke ranks by signing their own deals with Washington. The decision authorises the EU’s executive body, the European Commission, to begin talks with the US government on behalf of member states. A team from the commission’s justice department is due to visit Washington early next week, the commissioner who currently heads the department, Jacques Barrot said.

The visit shows the commission’s “strong will to end the injustice that implies that there are two categories of EU citizens” those who merit visa-free travel to the US visa and those who do not, he said.

The aim of the talks is to provide visa-free travel to the US for all EU citizens while satisfying US demands for security information on passengers.

Restrictions on travel to the US have been a political problem in the EU ever since its enlargement to take in 10 new members, mainly from central and eastern Europe in 2004, and the subsequent accession of Romania and Bulgaria in 2007.

At present, EU citizens from all of the older member states, with the exception of Greece, do not need a visa to enter the US.

On Feb 26, the Czech Republic signed a bilateral deal with the US paving the way for eventual visa-free status in return for security information on the passengers carried. Six other states subsequently signed similar deals.

But commission officials warned that such moves could run the risk of breaching EU rules, since some of the information in question was the preserve of the EU as a whole, and individual member states did not have the right to issue it.

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