U.S. travel security screening plan worries EU

/ Source: The Associated Press

European Union nations are concerned that travel security rules planned by the United States might amount to a new visa restriction on Europeans visiting the U.S., a diplomat said Wednesday.

The citizens of many EU nations now do not require a visa to enter the United States.

A senior Slovene diplomat said European officials were in talks with their U.S. counterparts trying to work out the aim of Washington's plan to set up an electronic travel authorization system.

Such a plan will force most foreign visitors to the U.S. to register their travel plans with U.S. border authorities online before they board a flight to the United States.

The U.S. government has repeatedly reassured the EU that such a new system does not amount to a new visa, but would simply replace the current green-colored forms Europeans have to fill out when they arrive at a U.S. border check.

Those forms request visitors to supply the address at which they will be staying and whether they have been convicted of war crimes among other questions.

"We do not know what Electronic Travel Authorization System is. Is it a visa?" asked a senior EU diplomat representing the bloc's rotating presidency, currently held by Slovenia.

"We wish to understand what it means," he said on condition of anonymity, due to the sensitivity of the issue.

Diplomats said EU nations wanted talks with the U.S. to ensure that the new system would be "as EU friendly as possible."

Questions that needed to be answered included how travelers would register, the cost and what data would be collected from them, they said.

The issue is expected to be raised during EU justice and interior ministers talks in Luxembourg on Friday.

During their meeting they are likely to approve a negotiating mandate for the European Commission to conduct a new round of talks on their behalf to secure a visa waiver for all 27 EU nations with the United States.

The visa waiver program currently excludes Greece and most of the Eastern European nations that joined the EU since 2004, although countries including Estonia, Latvia and the Czech Republic have recently signed bilateral deals with Washington that could qualify them for the program later this year.