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EU calls for visa-free travel to Canada

Canada must move to lift visa requirements on new EU member states or face possible retaliation, the European Commission warned Monday.
/ Source: The Associated Press

The European Union's top justice official threatened Tuesday to slap travel restrictions on Canadians traveling to the 27-nation bloc if Ottawa did not keep its promise to lift visa restrictions against new EU member states.

Franco Frattini, the EU's justice and home affairs commissioner, called on Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper to keep promises he made to EU officials at summit talks in June to ensure more visa-free travel for Europeans going to Canada.

"There will be for sure a discussion about introducing visas for Canadian citizens," if no progress is made, Frattini told reporters.

Twelve new nations have joined the EU since 2004. Canada has given Cyprus, Malta, Estonia and Slovenia the same visa-free treatment that Western Europeans enjoy, but it requires visas for visitors from the other eight new EU nations.

In a statement Monday, the EU executive called 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.

But Frattini said Tuesday it was "not enough" that Canada move to ease visas restrictions for just one new member state this year "but more than one new member state, as promised by Prime Minister Harper in June."

Frattini said he was ready to go to Ottawa later this year to negotiate with Canadian authorities to lift the visa requirements. "I would keep urging Canadian authorities to keep to what they have promised," he said.

Mike Fraser, a spokesman for Canada's Minister of Citizenship and Immigration Diane Finley, said late Monday that Ottawa was committed to lifting restrictions as soon as possible.

Frattini Tuesday presented a report to EU justice and interior ministers evaluating reciprocal visa rights between the EU and other countries.

The EU report also urged Australia and the United States to do more to apply reciprocal visa-free travel for all EU citizens.

EU officials said they were holding off criticizing Washington over its long-standing refusal to expand its visa-waiver program to new member states, until new legislation in the United States comes into force and is assessed by the EU.

U.S. President George W. Bush signed a law in August that expands a program allowing visa-free travel to the U.S. for more European countries, however some EU nations, including Poland might not meet stringent security requirements.

Portugal's Interior Minister Rui Pereira said the new U.S. system allows "equal treatment" for all 27 EU member states, adding it was "a step in the right direction."

The EU report said that full visa-free travel for all EU citizens was now allowed in Mexico and New Zealand.