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News 16 May 16

Bulgaria, Romania Tie EU-Canada Deal to Visas

The two Balkan countries say they might veto the upcoming EU-Canada pact if they do not get a clear timeframe for the abolition of Canadian visa requirements.

Mariya Cheresheva, Marian Chiriac
Sofia, Bucharest
Photo: Gary Fuss/Flickr

Bulgaria and Romania have warned the EU that they could refuse to back upcoming EU-Canada trade and investment agreement this autumn if they are not guaranteed free visa travel for their citizens.

In a joint letter circulated ahead of the EU Council of Foreign Affairs on May 13, which BIRN obtained, the ambassadors of the two countries to the EU expressed disappointment at Canada’s “discriminatory treatment” and with the EU’s commitment to ensuring visa reciprocity for all its citizens.

“It would be very difficult for the Governments of Bulgaria and Romania…to find arguments to promote the adoption of the Strategic Partnership between Canada and the EU and its Member States, SPA, while Canada is still imposing discriminatory treatment on our citizens, based on unclear and changing criteria,” the two countries warned.

They also remain skeptical about supporting the long-awaited Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement, CETA, which is expected to boost Europe’s GDP by removing 99 per cent of customs duties and other barriers from businesses.

They say that due to the remaining visa requirements, Bulgarian and Romanian businesses will not be able to fully benefit from the agreement.

The EU and Canada are expected to sign the strategic treaties at an upcoming bilateral summit on October 27.

Genoveva Chervenakova, spokesperson for Bulgaria’s permanent representation to the EU, told BIRN on Monday that Bulgaria is not imposing a “direct threat” of a veto to the EU and “nobody wants to get there”.

She noted that the government in Sofia only wanted to know when Canada will take a political decision on visas for Bulgarians and Romanians.

Romanian officials made no official comment following the EU summit on My 13, but diplomatic sources told BIRN that Romania sticks firmly to its position to use all available instruments after Canada breached its commitment on eliminating tourist visas for Romania and Bulgaria.

Prime Minister Dacian Ciolos made the same point on May 6. He noted that Canada had made a commitment to eliminate travel visas for the two countries and had guaranteed that this matter would be solved by the time the SPA and the CETA are signed.

"Romania and I, as Prime Minister, will use all tools we have; hopefully it will not be necessary," he said.

Both Canada and the US have missed the EU deadline, which fell on April 12, to fully ensure reciprocal visa requirements for all EU citizens.

After calling for the abolition of visas in April, the European Commission was expected to take a tough stance by proposing that the European Parliament and Council to impose temporary visas on US and Canadian citizens.

Instead, it took a softer approach, asking MEPs and governments for an opinion on how to proceed, which is due in July.

Bulgaria and Romania have expressed their disappointment with the Commission, stressing in their letter that they “expected the Commission to implement the relevant provisions and regulations”.

From a legal perspective, it is still unclear whether the two Balkan countries will be able to veto the trade pact, as the Commission has not decided yet on its type.

If it is mixed treaty, as most member states demand, all the national parliaments will have to ratify it, which leaves Bulgaria and Romania an opportunity to block it.

But, if a simple EU-Canada deal is agreed, the opinions of individual member states will be overlooked.

Diplomatic sources told BIRN that Bulgarian Foreign Minister Daniel Mitov is due to discuss the visa issue with his Canadian colleague in Brussels this week, ahead of a NATO event.

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