EU wants visa free travel to Canada for all their members

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The European Commission wants Canada to lift visa restrictions for the new member states that joined in 2004 and 2007, according to a report presented to the European Council today.

The commission would like to see Canada lift restrictions by the end of the year for at least one more country and show progress towards eliminating visa requirements for the rest by the first half of 2008.

Canada still requires visas for nationals of Latvia, Lithuania, Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland, Romania, Bulgaria, and Slovakia.

The European Union hinted at possible retaliatory measures if the situation is not improved. While it's possible for the EU to impose visa restrictions on Canadians travelling to the 27-member bloc, it's unlikely they will do so.

"At this point in time we are not suggesting that they be imposed on Canada...but we would like to see tangible progress from Canada," said Friso Roscam-Abbing, the EU's spokesman for Justice, Liberty and Security.

Canada has added Cyprus, Malta, Estonia, and Slovenia to the list of EU nations with visa-free access but has still withheld access to the rest of the new-member states.

EU members such as Latvia and Hungary feel that Canada is withholding access because of unjustified immigration fears.

Canada, the United States, Australia, and Brunei were the four countries singled out in the report.

"Progress remains stalled with one third country (United States) while the situation is evolving with regard to Australia, Canada and Brunei," the report stated.

Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper told the EU in June that Canada won't lift visa restrictions simply because the eight countries do not require visas for Canadians travelling to their countries.

"He indicated that Canada, based its decisions on assessment of each country's circumstances and not on reciprocity, and that -- in this respect -- cross-border travel between the U.S.A. and Canada is a very important consideration," the report said.

"Nevertheless, he also indicated that all remaining Member States are moving in the right direction and that it might be possible to waive the visa obligation for one or two Member States later this year."

The EU report doesn't suggest possible sanctions against the United States. The commission will be monitoring a new U.S. bill that would expand the United States' visa waiver program to include more European countries.