Visa waivers to EU countries for US citizens may be suspended

The European Union is threatening to end the visa waiver program for U.S. citizens to its countries because the American government will not grant waivers to all the EU member states.

In addition, the U.S. is denying visa waivers to EU travelers who have recently visited Iraq, Iran, Sudan, and Syria – a precaution established after the terrorist attack in San Bernardino.

Wall Street Journal:

The European Commission’s discussion is a response to the fact that the U.S. has yet to grant visa-free entry to the whole of the EU, despite pressure from the bloc. The discussion could lead to EU visa waivers for U.S. citizens being shelved within months, although the bloc has some wiggle room over when it must act.

In January 2014, a revised visa system was implemented, giving the commission power to temporarily suspend visa exemptions for foreign countries that didn’t lift their own visa requirements. The new rules were primarily an attempt to put pressure on countries such as the U.S.

In April 2014, the commission formally reported that citizens of five of its member states—Poland, Romania, Bulgaria, Croatia and Cyprus—that their citizens were still required to apply for visas when traveling to the U.S. This notification triggered a two-year window for the commission to examine the problem, the deadline for which passes on April 12.

Mina Andreeva, a spokeswoman for the commission, said the executive’s President Jean-Claude Juncker had put the issue on the agenda of next Tuesday’s meeting, adding that “our goal remains full reciprocal visa waiver with our strategic partners and we are working constructively with them on this with that in mind.”

Friday evening, a State Department official said the U.S. has maintained “an open dialogue with EU officials” on the issue but that the five EU countries in question “have not met the requirements for the U.S. visa waiver program.”

Those requirements, the official said, are set by law and need to be assessed on a bilateral basis case by case. The official said “it’s really premature to speculate” whether the issue can be resolved in the near term.

While the European Commission must take stock of the situation by next week, it wouldn't immediately have to propose a temporary suspension of its visa waiver and could delay that move for a few weeks.

A visa waiver is a courtesy extended by one friendly country to another.  The problem arises when travelers use the program to avoid scrutiny after having visited countries where terrorism is rampant.  A visa better allows the U.S. to keep track of a traveler's movements.

But the real sticking point is our denying visa waivers to travelers from countries whose security is not up to U.S. standards.  Some of the worst airport security is in eastern Europe, and both the EU and U.S. have been urging those countries for years to improve.  It seems prudent to deny these countries visa waivers for their citizens.

This is one of those diplomatic dust-ups where differences will be papered over and the visa waiver program will go on.  But the program deserves further scrutiny.  Given the threats involved, that seems the least that can be done.