US warns five EU countries of fading visa-waiver hopes

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The Independent Online

The United States will demand strict conditions before visa-free travel can be extended to five European Union countries waiting for approval, the US homeland security chief said Friday.

Bulgaria, Cyprus, Greece, Poland and Romania have not yet satisfied US conditions -- largely focused around overstay rates and a requirement to track people exiting US airports.

"Each of the remaining countries is in a somewhat different situation, but the issue is whether the criteria... are being satisfied," Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano told reporters after addressing EU lawmakers in Brussels.

"It's very difficult right now for me to predict which, if any of those countries, will be meeting those statutory requirements in the near future," she added.

Citizens of Austria, Belgium, Britain, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Portugal, Slovenia, Spain and Sweden were among the first to enjoy visa-free travel after the system started in 1986.

The Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta and Slovakia were last year added to the list, which allows for via-free travel for up to 90 days.

However, Elmar Brok, German MEP and chairman of the EU's parliamentary delegation for US relations, told Napolitano that she should be negotiating centrally with Brussels instead of with each country.

"After the Treaty of Lisbon comes into force, it makes even more sense to talk about questions like visa waiver requirements to the European Union itself -- not to the different independent member countries," he said.

Brok said that approach should also apply to passenger names records (PNR) from flights and broader cooperation in the fight against terrorism. Napolitano said the United States would renew an invitation for a review of data requirements in a bid to "alleviate some of the concerns that have been expressed" by privacy campaigners.

Non-EU European countries also covered by the visa-waiver are: Andorra, Iceland, Liechtenstein, Monaco, Norway, San Marino and Switzerland. Australia, Brunei, Japan, New Zealand, Singapore and South Korea are also on the list of 35.

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