EurActiv | 15 July 2016
Romania, Bulgaria, Canada seek to unlock CETA by solving visa dispute
By Georgi Gotev
Meetings in various formats have been held between Canada, the European Commission, Bulgaria and Romania, in an effort to avoid a possible veto from Sofia and Bucharest on the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) between the EU and Canada.
Bulgaria and Romania have made it clear they would veto CETA because of the failure by Ottawa to lift the visa requirement for their nationals.
That threat has become even more serious after the Commission agreed that CETA would be ratified by the parliaments of the member states, and not only by the European Parliament.
CETA was agreed in 2014 and, according to Trade Commissioner Cecilia Malmström, is the best trade agreement the EU has been able to conclude so far. It is yet to be signed and ratified.
Canada has a visa-free regime with all EU countries except Romania and Bulgaria. Ottawa has not delivered on its promise to solve the issue, contained in the statement of the 2014 EU-Canada summit, Sofia and Bucharest say.
A regulation which entered into force on 20 December requires EU countries to “react in common” on visa matters, especially in cases where foreign countries “subjects [EU] citizens to differing treatment”.
However, the College of Commissioners met on 12 April and decided that the consequences of the EU imposing visas to Canada and the USA would be so dire, that the EU legislation requiring reciprocity was impossible to be applied. April 12th was the deadline for the Commission to propose how EU countries should “react in common”, as an EU regulation requires, in cases where foreign countries “subjects [EU] citizens to differing treatment”.
Instead of issuing a delegated act and introduce visas for Canadian nationals travelling to the EU, the Commission sent the issue to be debated in the Council and the European Parliament.
Meetings in bilateral, trilateral and quadrilateral formats were held on Monday (11 July), hosted by Home Affairs Commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos, in an effort to find a solution to the problem.
Canada was represented by its Minister for Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship John McCallum, Bulgaria by Deputy Foreign Minister Rumen Alexandrov and its Deputy Interior Minister Philip Gounev, and Romania by the Head of the Romanian Prime Minister’s Chancellery Ioan Dragoș Tudorache.
In a statement, the Bulgarian permanent representation to the EU said that Sofia considers the existing visa regime for its nationals as unjustified and unequal treatment, which is not consistent with the achieved level of bilateral relations with Canada.
“We expect that by the October EU-Canada Summit our Canadian partners will present a clear timetable for the removal of visa restrictions for Bulgarian citizens”, the statement says.
Reportedly, Canada would like to solve the issue, without giving losing face and appearing that it has bowed to pressure. Consequently, a Canadian delegation has visited Romania to study immigration-related issues, and a similar visit is expected in Bulgaria.
It is expected that in early autumn, before the EU-Canada summit, Ottawa would reveal the timeframe leading to lifting to the visa requirement of Bulgarian and Romanian nationals. Reportedly, Sofia and Bucharest insist on keeping the Commission involved in the process.