EU lawmakers vote for visa restrictions for US citizens

Calls for US administration to lift travel restrictions on some European nations

The European Parliament has passed a non-binding resolution calling for the reintroduction of visa requirements for US citizens, raising the stakes in a long-running battle over the United States' refusal to grant visa-free access to citizens of five European Union countries.

In the vote on Thursday, European lawmakers played tit-for-tat in their dispute with the United States, demanding restrictions on American travellers unless the Trump administration lifts travel requirements for citizens of Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Poland and Romania.

“You’re talking about citizens from countries, like Poland, with a major diaspora” in the United States, said Claude Moraes, the British lawmaker who leads the Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs in the European Parliament, in a telephone interview Friday. “You’re really seeing frustration and anger, and without any timetable, this is becoming increasingly seen as second-class treatment.”

The resolution, while nonbinding, was an important political signal, and it increases pressure on the European Commission, the bloc's executive body, to confront the new administration in Washington, even though it may prove to be as intransigent on the matter as the Obama administration, if not more.

The European Parliament also warned that it could take the further step of bringing the European Commission to court if it continues not to stand up to Washington. “Only when the US fully gets that the European Commission is going to act are we going to get any kind of timetable from the United States,” Mr Moraes said. “At the moment, the US just believes the commission is not going to act but stick with the pragmatic argument that doing so would create damage that’s just too great.”

He continued, referring to Washington, “There’s no denying heightened concern about the current administration, but that’s more about uncertainty about who’s in charge and how the State Department is working.”

Mr Moraes said the civil liberties committee could still recommend within two months that a case against the commission’s failure to act be brought to the bloc’s highest tribunal, the Court of Justice of the European Union. “It’s a question of using what options are open to us,” he said, explaining the possible resort to litigation.

In the vote on Thursday, the Parliament gave the European Commission two months to take legal measures to impose visas for American travellers to the EU unless the United States offered reciprocity to all citizens from the bloc. European officials in Brussels have balked at making travel to Europe more difficult for Americans, saying doing so would have an economic cost and would most likely not even resolve the hurdles facing citizens of the five affected countries.

Parliament’s measure was approved in a show of hands and was not expected to worsen the standoff with the United States. But in the event that the court in Luxembourg were to rule in favour of Parliament, the commission might be forced to impose visa requirements on Americans.

The Trump administration, finding itself in a tit-for-tat battle over access, would then almost certainly do the same for travellers from the EU. In 2014, the European Commission was notified that the United States and four other countries - Australia, Brunei, Canada and Japan - were failing to provide reciprocal, visa-free travel to citizens of some EU countries. Australia, Brunei and Japan have resolved differences with the EU, and an agreement with Canada is expected to take effect in December for all citizens of Bulgaria and Romania, according to a statement from the European Parliament.

Margaritis Schinas, the chief spokesman for the commission, appeared to tamp down any expectations that it would impose visa requirements on Americans within two months, as outlined in the Parliament resolution. Instead, he said he advocated “continued engagement and patient diplomatic contacts” with Washington.

The commission will issue a progress report on discussions with the United States, he added, but not before the end of June.

New York Times