Source AP ©

EC urges Canada to make visa-free travel for all EU members

The European Commission will ward Tuesday that if Canada doesn’t lift visa requirements on new EU member states, it will face possible retaliatory steps.

In a report to be presented to European Union interior ministers, the EU executive is expected to call on Canada to allow at least one more EU country to enjoy visa-free travel by the end of the year and show tangible progress in abolishing the visa regime for the others in the first half of next year.

The report, seen by the Associated Press, will say "appropriate steps could be considered" if Canada drags its feet in changing the regime for the eight new EU members that still need visas to travel there. It does not specify what steps the EU or its individual member states could take.

Diplomats said the report would add political pressure on Canada but was unlikely to lead to reciprocal visa requirements for its citizens.

"Realistically, what measures can we take? We won't be able to agree on a visa regime for Canadians or any other measure. That would be counterproductive," a diplomat from a new member state said. He spoke on condition of anonymity because the Commission report has not yet been made public.

The visa issue is sensitive in new EU member states such as the Czech Republic and Hungary, which feel their citizens are being denied unhindered access to Canada over unjustified immigration fears.

Canada has given Cyprus, Malta, Estonia and Slovenia the same visa-free treatment that Western Europeans enjoy, but requires visas for visitors from the other eight new EU nations.

The Commission report does not envisage any steps against the United States over its visa waiver program. A new U.S. bill would expand it to more European countries, but not as many as the EU would like.

The current U.S. program allows citizens from most Western European countries and some other parts of the world to enter the country without visas, but excludes many of the newer EU member states.

The report acknowledges the United States has taken steps to allow more countries to enjoy visa free access.

The visa-waiver program was created in 1988 and was originally focused on preventing illegal immigration into the country.

But since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, the focus has shifted to security, and the program has been altered several times in hopes of strengthening the government's ability to detect and deter terrorists

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