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EU justice commissioner demands US visa program apply to all citizens in bloc

The European Union can no longer tolerate discrimination against citizens from some member states when it comes to US visa regulations, the bloc’s justice commissioner said Monday.

Franco Frattini told reporters in Budapest that he had spoken with US officials about a proposal for a standardized visa waiver program that would apply to all EU citizens. The US Congress “is working toward a new law eliminating differences and discrimination between member states of Europe,” Frattini said, adding that it could be adopted after US lawmakers’ reconvene after the summer break. Frattini was speaking at a joint news conference with Hungary’s Prime Minister Ferenc Gyurcsány, who agreed standardized US visa regulations should be demanded. Frattini also met with Hungary’s Foreign Minister Kinga Göncz and German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier.

The current US visa-waiver program allows citizens from most Western European countries and some other parts of the world to enter the country without visas, but excludes several of the newer EU member states. Some of those - such as Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic - are US allies with troops in Iraq or Afghanistan.

“We can no longer tolerate first- and second-class member states, that’s definitely not acceptable,” said Frattini, who also attended an annual meeting of Hungarian ambassadors in Budapest. The issue has been the focus of intense diplomatic discussion with the United States, with some NATO members in the EU complaining that their support of US operations in Iraq and Afghanistan have not won them entry into the program. Traveling into the US visa-free does not mean a visitor can stay indefinitely. A three-month visa would be approved by immigration officers upon arrival, but could be denied instantly. (pravda.ru)