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EU wants visa-free regime to US for all members

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European Union justice commissioner Franco Frattini told reporters in Budapest on 30 July 2007 that the 27 member bloc should no longer stand for discrimination by U.S. visa regulations in regard to some of its member states. He said that he has spoken with U.S. officials about a standard visa waiver program that would apply to all EU citizens.

According to Frattini, the U.S. Congress is "working toward a new law eliminating differences and discrimination between member states of Europe" and that it could be adopted after U.S. legislators reconvene after the summer break.

He was speaking at a joint press conference with Ferenc Gyurcsany, Hungary's Prime Minister, who also feels that the U.S. should not discriminate with its visa waiver program.

Most Western European citizens do not need visas to travel to the U.S. However, most Eastern and Central Europeans are required to get them, including Hungary who -- along with Poland and the Czech Republic -- have troops in Iraq and Afghanistan.

"We can no longer tolerate first and second-class member states, that's definitely not acceptable," said Frattini. President Bush has also urged Congress to include more Easter European countries in the visa-free regime.

New legislation being introduced may make it easier for new EU member states. Currently, a country can only join the visa-free regime if less than 2 percent of its citizens were refused visas or violated visa conditions during the previous fiscal year. The new legislation, if passed, would push this limit up to 10 percent.

However, only the Czech Republic and Estonia meet the proposed limit. 13 percent of Hungary's citizens were refused visas to the U.S. last year, although that number is falling.