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Europe

EU and U.S. Quarrel Over Visa Arrangements

New EU member states will not be automatically eligible for the visa waiver with the U.S. - nor will they be able to invoke a law requiring solidarity from other member states on the issue.

Reacting to media reports that countries such as Poland and the Czech Republic will press for the visa arrangement to be extended to all 25 member states, U.S. under-secretary for border security Asa Hutchinson said assessment would be made on a "country-by-country" basis. "We do not take a bloc of countries because they are members of the EU," Hutchinson said. At the moment all current member states apart from Greece have a visa waiver, while only Slovenia from the new member states has met the U.S. criteria. The U.S. judges countries on the basis of their rate of visa denials and their record of dealing with stolen passports. But there are fears that new member states, unlike Greece, will not hold back from using a so-called solidarity clause, which is part of the Schengen (open borders) legislation. This clause, once invoked, would mean that all EU member states would be obliged to require visas from U.S. citizens. Some new member states, particularly Poland, which was a firm ally of Washington during the Iraq war, are irritated that their citizens have to apply for visas to go to the United States. A Commission spokesperson said the Brussels executive would rather negotiate with Washington so that all 10 new member states can join the visa waiver in 2006 - the year when they are due to open their borders in the EU, as well. (EUobserver.com)

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