I see among the Romanian, Bulgarian and Croatian nationals an enthusiast wave of cheering, clapping and “Oh-my-god-justice-will-finally-be-done” attitude, after the European Parliament (EP) called the European Commission (EC) to take steps to reintroduce visa for American and Canadian citizens when travelling to EU. Being somehow closer to this topic, I would like to lay down the arguments why I totally disagree with this approach and why this would worsen the situation for the whole EU, should we ever get there ….
The context: According to the EU visa policy, we got something called the principle of visa reciprocity: simply explained, a country gets visa-free travel in the EU countries, and that country should also grant to EU Members the same treatment. This happens, of course, after lengthy negotiations, sometimes years and years of meetings and diplomatic contacts.
The situation: Today, nationals from Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Poland and Romania still need a visa for travelling to the U.S. In addition, Bulgarians and Romanians still need a visa for travelling to Canada. So, these two countries (U.S. and Canada) do not fully reciprocate the visa waiver.
What the rules say: EU legislation provides for the suspension of the visa waiver for citizens of third countries in cases of non-reciprocity of the visa waiver. I know, it sounds Chinese what I just wrote. Translation: EU can suspend the visa free travel for U.S. and Canadian citizens, if sees that these countries do not take steps towards relieving the visa obligation.
A bit of background and timeline:
In April 2016, the European Commission informed the European Parliament on what is the state of play on this issue. Summary: few countries didn’t yet go for full visa reciprocity for EU countries.
In July 2016, same body followed up and gave another outlook on the situation. At this point in time, we saw progress, Canadians were seriously starting negotiations, and some other countries applied full visa reciprocity in the meantime.
In December 2016, another report came out. And guess what: Canada provided in the meantime a clear timeline for full visa reciprocity. OK, so we have achieved results, after negotiations and diplomatic contacts. Governments from Bucharest and Sofia have put, in the meantime, a lot of pressure (but in a constructive way) and we see results. U.S. not moving though…
What happened yesterday: EP asked the EU Commission to take the legal steps to temporary reintroduce visa for the countries which do not fully reciprocate the visa-free-travel (a.k.a U.S. and Canada). The Commission is given two months to do that. That means that by 2 May, there should be the legal grounds in place to reintroduce visa for US and Canadians citizens.
While I understand the political stance that the Parliament took and I also see efforts done at ALL levels in European Commission, I really cannot understand all those cheering and awaiting impatiently for U.S. citizens to ask for visa to enter the EU. It is like this would solve all our problems…. Non-action is not an option, but, eye for an eye will leave the world blind.
Then and now
Back then: In my times (when I was a student), you needed a lot of money if you wanted to apply for a U.S. visa. In addition, you had to have your flight bought in advance and there was always the risk that the Embassy would reject your application – consequently , you’d also lose money. I had colleagues who were in that situation, I saw frustration and anger. I totally get it. I actually never applied and didn’t wish to travel to U.S. when I was back in Romania for two reasons: (1) money, (2) the rejection rate back then was so big that it frustrated me.
…and now: I am not saying is right or wrong, I am just saying that now the situation is rather “normal” as much as it can be; A Romanian citizen that wishes to travel to U.S. in good faith will easily get a visa for 10 years. We don’t queue in front of the Embassy and (from what I know) there are no more unreasoned rejections.
By requiring or being fulfilled at the idea of reintroducing visa for U.S. citizens we give proof of how small we feel, as a nation and, in a bigger picture, as a continent. And that thing is: we are not small at all!!!
Here are my practical arguments why we have to be careful about the 2nd May deadline.
Argument 1: Canada has already agreed full visa reciprocity
In relation to Canada, it would be really silly and counterproductive to impose now visas, when Canadian authorities have committed to lift the visa requirement as from 1 December 2017. If the Commission would be to adopt the implementing act asked by Members of the EP, then that would have to include also Canada.
Argument 2: Escalating a tense situation is NOT the answer
Imagine any relation (love, friendship, etc)! When you have a tense moment, a new administration and disagreements at different levels, what do you do?! You pull your gun out and threat your counterpart ?! “Power is a necessary condition for foreign policy success, but not always a sufficient one”, says Collin Powell. When, on the other side of the table, you got a President which is clearly against migration (and many other things….), when you got a president ready to appoint as Ambassador to EU a “hostile”diplomat (and here I quote EP), EU should do what? Put gas on fire?! Maybe this is the answer, I don’t know, but when assessing this situation and cheering for visa for US citizens, let’s look at the whole picture and let’s make sure this will not bite off our asses later on.
Argument 3: The Commission’s legal obligation is to serve the EU
The Parliament says that “EU Commission is legally obliged to take measures temporarily reintroducing visa requirements for US citizens, given that Washington still does not grant visa-free access to nationals of five EU countries”. But let’s not forget that the same Commission (and all the other EUROPEAN institutions) are also bound by the legal obligation to promote the general interest of the Union and take appropriate initiatives to that end. If this act would be against the overall EU interest, then what?!
Let’s face it: this is not only about visa, and is not only about those countries that still have visa requirements. The issue at stake is much bigger.
Argument 4: let the diplomats do their job in achieving visa reciprocity
Contacts and negotiations are ongoing. Let’s not act and think like a small nation. How about, in the meantime, we concentrate our efforts in fighting all those internal issues we all got?! Mind you, pressure at diplomatic level is great, but actually implementing such an act would be just…. questionable whether it is in the interest of the EU, at a global level.
Argument 5: let’s drop the hypocrisy
But what is pissing me off the most from all this is the hypocrisy of certain citizens. Because most of those asking their rights as EU citizens don’t believe ALL THE TIME in EU, they believe only when they want. They apply the idea of solidarity whenever fits their purpose: I am happy and I wave my right as EU citizen when fits me (e.g. EU has to impose visa on US citizens because US doesn’t give visa to Romanians), but hey, when it comes my turn to implements decisions I don’t like (e.g. host refugees in my country), then I am not European anymore. Or: I can mistreat migrants at the borders, build fences, treat them like animals and hamper their integration, and I give a hack about what “Brussels” says, but hey, let Brussels impose visa for U.S. citizens all over EU, because these are the rules.
Do you see also the hypocrisy in all this?!
I think we really need to stop picking what we like and what fits us from the EU project. Then, and only then, I believe, things will re-start functioning. If we are true Europeans, let’s be from the beginning to the end! If we are not, at least let’s not be hypocrites.
A good week-end to you all!