Today the European Parliament adopted amendments to the EU visa rules (Regulation 539/2001), including a new visa waiver suspension mechanism to ensure that visa free travel does not lead to irregularities or abuse.
«The new visa waiver suspension mechanism will contribute to preserving the integrity of the visa liberalisation processes and to build credibility vis-à-vis the citizens. It will allow, under strict conditions and after thorough assessment by the Commission, for the temporary reintroduction of the visa requirement for citizens of a certain third country.
Let me stress that this mechanism does not target any specific third country or region, but applies equally to all countries that benefit or will benefit from visa-free travel to the EU in the future.
The visa suspension mechanism should only be used in exceptional circumstances as a last resort measure. The aim is to address emergency situations caused by the abuse of the visa-free regime by nationals exempted from the visa obligation.
I very much hope that we will not experience situations that could lead to a visa-waiver suspension. But I am also convinced that having the possibility to trigger such a ‘safety brake’ will help increase the confidence of the Member States in the visa governance and future visa liberalisations.
I am personally committed to maintaining visa-free travel for third-country nationals who benefit from this. But we need to ensure that our common visa policy remains a trusted component of an efficient European migration policy. In particular, we need to prevent the misuse of any visa-free regime for purposes other than the intended short-term travel to the EU», said Cecilia Malmström, EU Commissioner for Home Affairs.
Why did the Commission propose to introduce a visa waiver suspension mechanism?
After the granting of visa liberalization to some Western Balkan countries, several EU Member States were confronted with a considerable influx of persons that travel visa free to the EU and then abuse asylum procedures. In order to prevent the misuse of the visa-free regime for purposes other than the intended short-term travel to the EU, the Commission announced its intention to strengthen the post visa liberalisation monitoring in all Western Balkan countries that achieved visa liberalisation. Furthermore, the Commission proposed in 2011 to introduce a general mechanism allowing for temporary suspension of a visa waiver for third-country nationals, when certain conditions are met.
Establishing a suspension mechanism of general application will help to preserve the integrity of the visa liberalisation processes and to build credibility vis-à-vis the public. It would provide a general framework for the future, without being related to specific third countries.
When would the mechanism be applied?
The Commission believes that the visa waiver suspension mechanism should be applied only as a temporary measure in clearly defined emergency situations, for example, in case of a sudden high inflow of irregular migrants or a sudden increase of unfounded asylum requests from a third country, where an urgent «visa» response needs to be given to solve the difficulties faced by affected Member States and taking account of the overall impact of the emergency situation on the European Union as a whole and the consequences for the external relations of the EU of the temporary re-introduction of the visa obligation.
How would it be implemented?
A decision on the temporary suspension of a visa waiver would by no means be automatic. Following the notification by Member States of an emergency situation, the Commission would assess the situation and the necessity of suspending the visa waiver for a third country. This assessment will take into account the number of Member States affected by the sudden occurrence of any of the situations listed in this proposal and the overall impact of them on the migratory situation in the EU.
The decision to temporarily suspend the visa waiver would be adopted through the comitology procedure by conferring implementing powers on the Commission. The European Parliament and the Council will have the right of scrutiny.