The 28-country bloc sees no prospect of meeting the deadline to settle a dispute over a Canadian visa requirement for travellers from Romania and Bulgaria, EU sources told The Canadian Press on Friday.
Though it would take several months for the visa rules to come into force, Tuesday’s meeting of the EU College of Commissioners looks set to re-ignite a nasty public spat in a year when Canada and the EU are hoping to finally ratify their landmark free-trade deal, which has been seven years in the making.
Jean-Claude Juncker, the president of the EU’s executive commission, personally placed the matter on the college’s Tuesday agenda to comply with a two-year-old EU regulation that forces it to seek visa reciprocity with Canada, the United States and other countries, sources said. The issue has not crept up on Canada: notice of the non-reciprocity action was published in EU journals on April 12, 2014, which started a two-year clock ticking. Once it expires, the European Commission is obliged to move forward with a “delegated act” that essentially gets the ball rolling towards imposing a retaliatory, one-year visa requirement on Canadian travellers.
“It is a political commission and therefore they need to have a political discussion on the topic,” said one source.
“If non-reciprocity still exists on Tuesday — which we can be pretty sure of — the commission will be obliged to adopt that delegated act on a temporary suspension of the visa waiver for 12 months.”
Canadians who have booked a springtime visit to Paris or a summer excursion to Pamplona’s running of the bulls need not fret just yet.
Even if Canada does nothing to resolve the issue, it could take anywhere from four to nine months for the visa to take effect because of various EU rules.
The European Parliament and Commission will have four months to block the “delegated act” if a majority vote in either of those bodies fails to uphold it. Given high stakes of the Canada-EU free trade deal, it is possible that many European countries will break ranks with their Bulgarian and Romanian colleagues.
But the brinkmanship has left EU officials and politicians exasperated.
Representatives from Canada, the EU, Bulgaria and Romania have met four times since the EU filed notice on the issue, but no progress has been made, said another source.
In January, a Romanian member of the European Parliament wrote to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Immigration Minister John McCallum and International Trade Minister Chrystia Freeland, urging in strong language that the Liberals solve the problem.
European lawmaker Sorin Moisa wrote that removing visas for Romanians and Bulgarians “would not bring any risks for Canada, would remove some of the real political risks to CETA’s adoption and would spare both the EU and Canada an embarrassing legal and political row.”
The EU’s embassy in Ottawa declined comment.
Felix Corriveau, a spokesman for McCallum, said Canadian officials in Ottawa and Brussels are “heavily engaged in a very positive, ongoing dialogue with Romania, Bulgaria and the European Commission.”
“Canada’s visa policy is not based on reciprocity,” he added, saying it tries to strike a balance between welcoming visitors to Canada and “protecting the health, safety and security of Canadians.”
Corriveau said visa policy is not linked in any way to free trade agreements.
Moisa, a member of the European Parliament’s trade committee, disagrees.
“While I have never made the CETA-visa link myself, the EU-Canada summit that closed the CETA negotiations in September 2014 did it with utmost clarity,” he writes.
A joint statement calling for visa-free travel for all Canadian and EU citizens was issued after the summit.
If a visa requirement were imposed on Canadian travellers, it would affect only the 26 countries of the EU’s Schengen Area, with Britain and Ireland exempt. The United States faces the same retaliation as Canada because it requires visas for visitors from Romania and Bulgaria as well as Croatia, Cyprus and Poland.