EU Commission delays decision on Canada, U.S. visas to July 12

Faced with a continued unwillingness by Canada and the U.S. to lift visa requirements for some EU citizens, the European Commission has given the EU's Parliament and Council three months to 'urgently launch discussions' on the 'appropriate way forward.'

EU Parliament, Council to 'urgently launch discussions' on 'fundamental element' of EU's common visa policy

Dimitris Avramopoulos, the EU's commissioner for migration, home affairs and citizenship, said in a statement Tuesday that EU citizens rightly expect to travel without a visa to any third country whose citizens can enter the EU's 26-country 'Schengen area' visa free. However, a decision to reciprocate with visa requirements for Canadians and Americans has been postponed until July. (Geert Vanden Wijngaert/Associated Press)

Faced with a continued unwillingness by Canada and the U.S. to lift contentious visa requirements, the European Commission has given the European Union's Parliament and Council three months to "urgently launch discussions" on the "appropriate way forward."

April 12 had been set as a deadline for five countries — Canada, the United States, Brunei, Japan and Australia — to comply with the EU's policy of visa reciprocity, which requires countries whose citizens don't need EU visas to, in return, allow visa-free travel for all EU nationals.

Japan and Australia complied last year, and the European Union says that Brunei is expected to comply in the coming weeks. But Canada, which currently requires visas for Romanian and Bulgarian citizens, and the United States, which requires visas for citizens from five EU member states, have not lifted their visa requirements despite ongoing negotiations and the intended pressure of this now-passed deadline.

In a statement issued after the EU's College of Commissioners (cabinet) met in Strasbourg Tuesday, the European Commission said it has an obligation to respond, since 24 months had passed since it had served its notice.

But before deciding to impose visas on Canadians and Americans, EU institutions are obliged to "extensively scrutinize and take into account potential adverse political consequences that might arise from such proposals or decisions." 

"We are pleased that the Commission has chosen not to adopt an Act to impose a visa requirement on Canadian travellers to Europe at this time," Immigration Canada spokesperson Nancy Caron wrote to CBC News. 

"Having fewer Canadians travelling to the EU due to a visa requirement could impact not only the EU's tourism sector, but also political and economic relations — as well as established family ties."

'Considerable economic consequences'

It is "highly unlikely" that EU countries could process the increased number of visa applications within the required 90 days of a decision coming into force, the EU statement said.

The EU's assessment also concluded that a visa requirement would decrease travellers from Canada and the U.S., and "likely entail considerable, economic consequences, notably for the aviation industry, as well as have a substantial impact on the EU's external relations with two strategic partners."

"Visa reciprocity is a fundamental element of the EU's common visa policy," the EU's home affairs, migration and citizenship commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos said, adding that EU citizens "rightly expect" the visa-free travel the policy promises and resolving the matter fairly remains high on the bilateral agenda.

The United Kingdom and Ireland are not part of the common visa policy. Travel to these countries would not be affected.

Measures for low-risk travellers

On Monday, Immigration Minister John McCallum confirmed Canada is still in talks to work things out.

Immigration Minister John McCallum said Monday that Canada doesn't share the EU's view on the importance of visa reciprocity. Canada has made it easier for low-risk travellers from Romania and Bulgaria to obtain visas, his department said. (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)

"We don't do it in terms of reciprocity," he told reporters after question period. "We do it according to the conditions in each particular country, with a view to Canadians' security and Canada's well-being."

"Neither Romania nor Bulgaria currently meets Canada's criteria for a visa exemption," department spokesperson Remi Lariviere wrote to CBC News.

Canada has made it easier for low-risk Romanian and Bulgarian visitors to travel to Canada by:

  • Opening visa application centres in Bucharest and Sofia.
  • Allowing for online applications.
  • Reducing the fee on the standard multiple-entry visitor visa to $100 for up to ten years (six months maximum per visit.)
  • Translating an online instructional video into Romanian and Bulgarian to prevent application mistakes.
  • Launching an expedited visa process for business travellers from registered companies.

CETA rapporteur resigns

Canada's failure to resolve the visa issue has cost it a key ally in its effort to ratify the Canada-EU Comprehensive Economic Trade Agreement (CETA.)

Sorin Moisa, a member of the European Parliament from Romania, had been working hard in favour of the deal as the S&D (Socialists & Democrats) party rapporteur for CETA. He served on the international trade committee in Brussels and his party's votes were thought to be key in lining up enough support for ratification.

Moisa told CBC News Network Tuesday he was disappointed with the European Commission's decision to delay taking a stand until July 12.

"They've avoided legal measures but upped the political stakes," he told host Andrew Nichols.

In a statement shared with CBC, Moisa said visa-free travel is necessary to ensure all citizens "will benefit fully from the new trade and economic opportunities that are being created between Canada and the EU," he said.

With regret, he said he will resign Wednesday as rapporteur as a result of "Canada's disappointing and unjust behaviour on the issue of visas."

International Trade Minister Chrystia Freeland is travelling to Germany Wednesday to lobby for support for Canada's trade deal with the European Union. Steps toward ratification could begin later this year. (Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press)

International Trade Minister Chrystia Freeland is travelling to Germany Wednesday to speak with legislators and and key stakeholders about the trade deal.

She's expected to meet with German Vice-Chancellor Sigmar Gabriel, who previously voiced objections to CETA based on its investor-state dispute settlement provisions.

A compromise was reached on that earlier this year, in an effort to ensure CETA passes in both the European Parliament in Brussels, but also the legislatures of individual member states like Germany.

Freeland is expected to travel to Brussels in the near future as Canada's lobbying effort continues.