Middle-east Arab News Opinion | Asharq Al-awsat

EU to Facilitate the Suspension of Visa-Free Travel amid Immigration Worries | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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Klaas Dijkhoff, on the left, and Frans Timmermans

European Union interior ministers will support plans on Friday to make suspending visa-free travel with any third country easier and faster, officials said, amid expanding public concern about the rising scale of immigration. Meanwhile EU and Turkey have politically sensitive talks going on in regard of making travel requirements easier for Turks who would like to visit Europe for up to three months without the right to work.

The 28-nation bloc is planning the concession to Ankara as part of a deal whereby Turkey approves to take back migrants who reach Greece from its shores, nevertheless some EU states are concerned about opening up to a nation of 79 million people with a majority of Muslims. Consequently, to soften similar concerns, the EU decided to work on a new strategy which permits it to suspend the visa waiver with any country, out of the 60 that have such agreements in place.

On the other hand, both Turkey and the EU are currently working to make travel rules easier for citizens of Ukraine, Georgia and Kosovo.

“Visa liberalization brings great benefits but there also are risks. It is designed for short stays of tourists or for business travel,” said Klaas Dijkhoff, migration minister for the Netherlands, which now holds the bloc’s rotating presidency. Dijkhoff also added that the suspension mechanism will in due course become easier to invoke in cases where the more liberal visa regime is abused.

At the moment the mechanism can be used incase a country experiences a severe rise in asylum applications or readmission refusals over a six-month period from a non-EU state that has had its travel rules relaxed.

Germany and France suggested last month accelerating the procedure and the ministers are expected to approve the shortening of that period to two months; also they intend to fasten the procedure for approving any suspension request.

The plan also adds “substantial increase of risks to the public policy or internal security” as grounds for suspending visa-free travel, noting that changes will apply to the countries of Europe’s Schengen zone, which comprises most but not all EU member states and several non-EU countries such as Norway and Switzerland.

Britain and Ireland are not affected as they are outside the Schengen area. Immigration is a key issue in the campaign for Britain’s June 23 referendum on whether to leave the EU.