Canada EU trade barbs in visa dispute
Spat over visa requirement for some EU states linked to trade deal and tourism.
OTTAWA — Canada and the European Union traded barbs in their long-running visa dispute, escalating their brinkmanship as a key deadline in the impasse came and went without a resolution.
Europe’s top envoy to Canada said there’s no guarantee the mammoth Canada-EU free trade deal would win approval in the European Parliament if Canada keeps visa restrictions on Bulgarian and Romanian travellers.
A spokesman for Immigration Minister John McCallum shot back with a warning that if the EU imposes a retaliatory visa on Canada it might hurt EU tourism, as well as economic and political relations.
Marie-Anne Coninsx, the European Union’s ambassador to Canada, linked the free-trade deal, known as CETA, with the unresolved visa dispute during an interview with The Canadian Press.
“Officially, there’s absolutely no connection,” Coninsx said in her Ottawa office.
But if the visa issue isn’t resolved when CETA comes before the European Parliament for a vote, expected by years’ end, Coninsx said Bulgaria and Romania would vote against it.
While only a majority vote of the EU Parliament is needed ratify CETA, Coninsx said other countries might also vote against the deal.
“There might be other nationalities who say we don’t like what is happening with our brothers and sisters from Romania and Bulgaria and we do the same,” Coninsx said.
“If we don’t have this issue on the table, I guarantee it (CETA) will be adopted without any major issue,” she added.
“It should go smoothly, but with that on the table, I cannot predict.”
Coninsx spoke hours after European Union nations and lawmakers began urgent talks on how to respond to the failure of Canada, the US and Brunei to extend visa-free travel to citizens of all of the union’s 28 member states.
The European Commission invited them Tuesday “to urgently launch discussions and to take a position on the most appropriate way forward” within three months.
The talks could lead to visa requirements for travellers from the three countries. In Canada’s case, that is because it demands visas for travellers from Romania and Bulgaria.
McCallum’s spokesman Felix Corriveau said Canada was pleased the European Commission was taking its time to consider imposing a visa.
“We urge the Council of the European Union and the European Parliament to consider carefully the negative impact that a visa imposition on Canada would have on our shared interests,” Corriveau said in an emailed statement.
“Canadians travel to the EU in large numbers and contribute tourism dollars to many EU member states’ economies. Having fewer Canadians travelling to the EU due to a visa requirement could impact not only the EU’s tourism sector, but also political and economic relations _ as well as established family ties.”
McCallum said he’s not concerned how the dispute might affect CETA, saying that is a separate issue.
“We have not offered full visa lift but we have offered something called Canada plus, which is easier access for regular travellers,” McCallum said.
McCallum said the EU’s demand for full visa reciprocity is something that has to be negotiated. He said Canadian officials are heavily engaged in talks with Romania, Bulgaria and the European Commission.
But Coninsx noted that Canada and the European Union issued a joint statement at their 2014 summit in Ottawa calling for visa-free travel for all Canadian and EU citizens.
“This, to me, is an irritant which should not be there,” said Coninsx, calling it “regrettable” that the problem could not be solved in the two years since it became a live issue.
Coninsx expressed hope that when the top EU interior affairs official, Dimitris Avramopoulos, visits Ottawa in June, he and McCallum can settle the issue.
“At the end of the day, we’ll find a resolution, but we are not there yet,” McCallum said.
Because of various EU rules, it could be several months before a visa requirement would go into effect.
© 2016 The Canadian Press