Led by the Department of Homeland Security, the U.S. yesterday signed agreements with Latvia and Estonia enabling them to join the U.S. visa waiver program (VWP). Negotiations with Hungary begin tomorrow in Washington. Enter Commissioner Frattini.
The European Commissioner handling the Justice and Home Affairs portfolio is itching to get his time with Secretary Chertoff. He told reporters that his â€œproposal will be to go ahead with political discussions from now until June at a high political level.â€ Higher than Chertoff? Perhaps he is hoping that Secretary of State Rice will weigh in on his interest in maintaining momentum for an EU-wide visa waiver agreement.
Chertoff maintains that the U.S. negotiates visa waiver status on a country-by-country basis, but the European Commission views this as an EU issue that should lead to a waiver for all EU member states. Frattini and the EU are being challenged by a split in the ranks.
The Commission has jurisdiction over visa reciprocity for the EU, but the slow pace of the supranational government led the Czech Republic earlier this year to sign their own deal, which spurred a chain reaction. In addition to Latvia and Estonia, both EU members, 15 other EU countries already participate in the visa waiver program. As the European Commission seeks to negotiate a visa-waiver pact for the entire 27-nation EU, Frattiniâ€™s negotiating hand is weakening. Nevertheless, Commissioner Frattini is hoping to use todayâ€™s meeting with Chertoff to strike a visa waiver for the EU before October.
The U.S. needs to be careful in making sure that further negotiations avoid the appearance of undermining EU governance mechanisms. We gain nothing by doing so and risk fracturing a reluctant ally in the fight against terrorism. A unified and well organized EU is better that the sum of its parts in this context. One way to move forward would be to agree to a set of principles in negotiating further agreements with EU nations that protects privacy in the way the EU seeks and accelerates country-by-country progress toward the VWP requirements among remaining EU nations to facilitate a broader blanket for this program.