Three more EU states ready to ink US visa deals: diplomat

EU

Lithuania, Slovakia and Hungary hope to sign “as soon as possible” deals with the United States that could secure visa free US travel for their citizens, a Lithuanian diplomat said Wednesday.

US Secretary of Homeland Security Michael Chertoff signed such MoU with Estonia Wednesday and was set to do the same in Latvia. He could ink similar deals with the three others on Friday after EU-US justice talks in Slovenia. Lithuania, Slovakia and Hungary are in “intense negotiations” with the United States and hope to be allowed to join its visa waiver program, the diplomat said. The information was confirmed by a Slovakian spokeswoman in Brussels.

If the three sign the agreements this week, it would be a new blow to the European Commission, which has jurisdiction in visa reciprocity and claims that only it can negotiate with third countries on the EU’s behalf. Without the waiver, currently only enjoyed by 15 nations, citizens from Greece and 11 of the 12 newest states -- Slovenia aside -- are obliged to have visas, even for a short stay, when they arrive on US territory.

Tired of the slow pace of negotiations led by the commission, the CzechRepublic signed an accord on security measures for flights with Washington last month in an effort to enter the US program, setting off a chain reaction. However no guarantees have been given that countries signing the bilateral MoU would win the visa waiver so prized by their citizens. The commission, which wants to obtain a visa waiver for all EU nations by the end of the year, considered that the Czech decision to go it alone had undercut its bargaining power. It was also concerned that countries concluding such deals would surrender far more information about their citizens than allowed under EU rules, and it has threatened legal action if the states cross this line. The issue is set to top the agenda of an EU-US justice troika near the Slovenian capital Ljubljana on Thursday, to be attended by Chertoff. The issue has raised such tensions that it could also climb onto the agenda of a two-day summit of EU leaders in Brussels starting Thursday. (TurkeshPress)

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