Visa Waiver Programme checks for all
The official view in the EU is that the recently concluded agreements - PNR and SWIFT - with the USA represent finding "common ground" and balancing privacy and security - a view not shared by many. In the wings there are two other issues where the USA is seeking to lay down the rules for the EU: the US Via Waiver Programme (VWP) and a so-called "blacklist" of multinational companies doing business with US designated "state sponsors of terrorism". See: US "blacklists EU multinationals for trading with "State Sponsors of Terrorism"
VWP US checks to apply to all EU member states
Under the US Visa Waiver Programme only 15 EU countries do not have to apply for visas (the original 15 member states minus Greece but plus Slovenia). People from the other 12 EU countries still need to get a visa to go to the USA.
The EU position throughout has been that all 27 member states have to be treated equally. At a meeting in Vienna on 3 May 2006 the EU Presidency said that visa reciprocity "has become a crucial element in the relations between the EU and the USA." But by a meeting in January 2007, despite a pledge by George Bush, the US came up front with a whole series of new demands before they would add 12 EU countries to the Visa Waiver Scheme:
"airport security, air marshals, reporting on lost - and stolen passports, passenger information exchange, electronic travel authorisation etc." (EU doc no: 655/07)
The EU says that any new agreement should not impose additional burdens on EU member states which are already Visa Waiver Programme participants. But new legislative proposals going through in the USA would apply new checks to all EU states - including the 15 countries not needing visas.
This would involve:
- biometric screening of passengers (all ten fingerprints)
- screening of passengers through an e-travel authorisation system (Electronic Travel Authorisation): a "green light" would authorise travel but a "yellow light" would mean the traveller would have to go to the US consulate to be interviewed
- PNR data access
- immediate reporting to the USA of lost and stolen passports (of which there are hundreds of thousands a year in the EU)
- standards for airports and baggage security
- and agreements for the repatriation of any visitors who violate US law
The European Commission and the EU Council Presidency have repeated told the USA that any agreement must be negotiated with the EU as a whole and not on a country-by-country basis. However, the USA intends to do exactly that, the US Department for Homeland Security (DHS) has told the EU it intends to start negotiations in the autumn and look at each country, one at a time, to determine the security risk.
Tony Bunyan, Statewatch editor, comments:
"The US is running rings around the EU yet again. First they promised to bring the excluded 12 EU member states into the Visa Waiver Programme then unilaterally changed their minds so that stringent security tests will be imposed on all 27 member states.
The US gots its way on the PNR and SWIFT deals and unless the Commission and Council finally put their feet down the same will happen on the Visa Waiver Programme."
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