What is the visa reciprocity mechanism?
Visa reciprocity is a principle of the EU common visa policy and an objective which the Union should pursue in a proactive manner in its relations with third countries, thus contributing to improving the credibility and consistency of the Union's external relations. This principle means that the EU, when deciding on lifting the visa requirement for citizens of a third country, takes into consideration whether that third country reciprocally grants visa waiver to nationals of all Member States (except the UK and Ireland who do not participate in the common visa policy) to every non-EU country whose citizens can travel to the EU/Schengen area without a visa.
The EU has a common list of countries whose citizens must have a visa and of countries whose citizens are exempt from that requirement (see Council Regulation (EC) No 539/2001).
In the spirit of reciprocity, the EU seeks that third countries on the visa-free list grant a visa waiver to citizens of all EU Member States. For this reason, a visa reciprocity mechanism has been set up.
The current mechanism was introduced by Regulation (EU) 1289/2013 and entered into force in January 2014.
Why is the Commission reporting again on visa reciprocity with the U.S. and Canada?
The U.S. continues to require visas for citizens of Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Poland and Romania. Canada still requires visas for citizens of Bulgaria and Romania, although significant progress on this issue was announced at the EU-Canada Summit in October (see below).
On 12 April 2016, the Commission presented an assessment of the consequences of a possible suspension of the visa waiver under the EU's reciprocity mechanism, noting that a temporary suspension for Canadian and U.S. citizens would have a substantial impact on the EU's external relations with both countries. Introducing new requirements for travellers from the U.S. and Canada would very likely also lead to negative economic impacts for the EU, without bringing about full visa reciprocity.
As a follow up, in July 2016 the Commission took stock of the progress achieved between April and July and committed itself to reporting on the further progress made before the end of the year. The Commission today reverted to the matter to evaluate the developments over the past five months.
What progress has been made in the discussions with Canada and the U.S. on visa reciprocity?
- Following intensive and coordinated efforts and sustained engagement between the EU and Canada at political and technical level ahead of the 16th EU-Canada Summit on 30 October 2016 in Brussels, Canada provided a clear timeline for achieving full visa waiver reciprocity with Bulgaria and Romania, the two remaining EU countries whose citizens still require visas. On 3 October 2016 Canada announced that it will lift the visa requirement from 1 May 2017 for Bulgarian and Romanian travellers who have held a Canadian temporary resident visa in the past 10 years or who hold a valid U.S. non-immigrant visa. The rest of the travellers will become visa-free as from 1 December 2017.
- Despite the stepping up of political and technical contacts, there have not been comparable indications of progress towards the lifting of visas with the U.S.
Is the Commission proposing the reintroduction of visas for citizens from the U.S. and Canada today?
No. The Commission has today evaluated the progress achieved in discussions with both countries and set out the next steps.
The Commission considers that with continued engagement and diplomatic contacts progress can be achieved - the decision taken by Canada following the political and technical discussions is a proof of that. The Commission continues to consider that suspending the visa waiver for the citizens of these two countries would very likely lead to significant negative impacts for the EU without bringing full visa reciprocity for all EU citizens. Suspending the visa waiver is likely to deteriorate rather than improve the situation for citizens and businesses on both sides of the Atlantic.
What are the next steps?
The Commission had invited the European Parliament and the Council to take a position on the most appropriate way forward by 12 July 2016. The Commission notes that the Council did not yet express a position on the matter and the European Parliament debated the issue in Plenary last week. The Chairman of the Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs (LIBE) addressed a letter to the Commission on 7 June 2016. A debate also took place in the Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs (LIBE) of the European Parliament on 12 October.
Welcoming Canada's decision to lift the visa requirement for all Bulgarian and Romanian citizens travelling to Canada as from 1 December 2017, the Commission will continue to engage with both Member States in order to ensure that full visa reciprocity will be put in place within the agreed timeframe. As regards the United States, once the new U.S. Administration is in place, the Commission will relaunch and intensify its efforts to push for full visa reciprocity in coordination with the five Member States concerned (Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Poland and Romania). The Commission will continue to work closely with both the European Parliament and the Council to ensure that the European Union speaks with one voice on this important matter and will report on the further progress.
What has the Commission done so far to achieve full visa reciprocity with the U.S. and Canada?
During 2016, contacts with the U.S. and Canada have intensified, including at the highest political level, to achieve full visa reciprocity. These contacts have led to positive results with Canada: all Bulgarian and Romanian citizens will become visa-free as from 1 December 2017.
At the EU-U.S. Justice and Home Affairs Ministerial Meeting held on 4-5 December 2016, the EU stressed again the importance of achieving full visa reciprocity with the United States as soon as possible. The next EU-U.S. Justice and Home Affairs Ministerial and Senior Officials meeting expected to take place in the first half of 2017 will provide the next occasion to discuss with the new Administration a way forward to achieving this objective.
The Commission will continue its work until all non-reciprocity cases are solved.
For more information
Press release - Visa reciprocity: recent developments reported by the Commission, Brussels, 21 December 2016
Communication adopted on 21 December 2016 - State of play and the possible ways forward as regards the situation of non-reciprocity with certain third countries in the area of visa policy (Follow-up to the Communication of 12 April)
Communication of 12 April - State of play and way forward as regards the situation of non-reciprocity
5 November 2015 – Report from the Commission assessing the situation of non-reciprocity with certain third countries in the area of visa policy
22 April 2015 - Report from the Commission assessing the situation of non-reciprocity with certain third countries in the area of visa policy
10 October 2014 - Report from the Commission assessing the situation of non-reciprocity with certain third countries in the area of visa policy
Council Regulation listing those countries whose nationals must be in possession of visas when crossing the external borders and those whose nationals are exempt from that requirement (Council Regulation (EC) No 539/2001)
Regulation amending Council Regulation (EC) No 539/2001 listing the third countries whose nationals must be in possession of visas when crossing the external borders and those whose nationals are exempt from that requirement(Regulation (EU) 1289/2013)