Thursday, 14 February 2008

Brussels doesn't like to be ignored

Brussels is baring some teeth this week, as it becomes increasingly assertive in the face of US efforts to negotiate with different EU countries separately in areas now handled by Brussels.

This week’s spat is over a new set of security requirements the US wants to impose on European countries designed to keep track of who is entering and leaving the country. The US is demanding in-flight security officers aboard transatlantic flights, an electronic travel authorization system, and an accord to share further data on air passengers and lost and stolen passports.

The European Commission today shot the proposal down saying it was "unacceptable" and went "too far". But what they seem to be most angry about is that the US didn’t consult them and instead attempted to circumvent Brussels, taking their demands to the individual EU capitals. Jonathan Fauli, the head of the Commission’s Home Affairs department, told reporters yesterday,
"We don't negotiate matters which are dealt with in Washington with the state of California - that would be disrespectful and we expect the US to be similarly respectful of our law and system here. The USA knows perfectly well that there some things you come to Brussels to talk about.”
Many of the smaller European states, particularly those of Eastern Europe, would be eager to sign up to the additional security measures as a trade-off for being able to enter into visa-free travel agreements. Right now some EU citizens can enter the US without a visa, while others need to apply and pay for one in advance of their trip. Citizens of Slovakia, Poland, Hungary, Lithuania, Latvia, Romania, Bulgaria, Greece and the Czech Republic must apply for visas to visit the United States.

The discrepancy has been a big point of contention because EU citizens now, in theory, all have the same type of passport, yet the particular state they come from determines whether or not they can enter the US. US citizens, on the other hand, can enter any EU country on the spot with no problem, although Brussels has threatened that this policy may be in jeopardy if a deal with the remaining EU nations isn’t worked out soon. Fauli threatened yesterday, "we have been extremely patient and we have not imposed a visa obligation on any category of US citizens, but our patience cannot last forever." Could the EU go to the "nuclear option"of making Americans get visas to visit Europe?


rz said...

This is exactly the type of issue where I approve of strong action on the EU level.

Russia is also very talented in picking apart the European Nations. When Russia banned Polish meat the EU should have stood as one, and let's not even get started about energy issues.

Jon Worth said...

The record of the US putting its foot in it with regard to the EU - look at Bush commenting on Turkey joining the EU. Plus with a consensus among many EU countries that the USA managed a better deal on transatlantic open skies than EU carriers did, it's no surprise that the Commission is getting a bit prickly about this one...

If the USA gives visa-free access to all EU 27 countries, then they might be able to impose some of their mad security plans in return.