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Dragutin Mate, President of the JHA Council, reports to the European Parliament on talks with the USA on the visa-free regime

Dragutin Mate, Slovenian Minister of the Interior and President of the JHA Council, reported to members of the European Parliament in Strasbourg today on the meeting of the troika of justice and home affairs ministers of the EU with representatives of the United States of America, which was held on 12 and 13 March 2008 at Brdo pri Kranju. Minister Mate presented the talks on visa reciprocity in detail, including the reform of the American Visa Waiver Programme and said: "At the Troika meeting we made great progress, as we managed to agree with the US representatives to continue the talks on the visa-free regime. We all support efforts to include all EU Member States in the Visa Waiver Programme as soon as possible, so that all EU citizens can travel to the USA without visas in the same way that US nationals can travel to all EU Member States. Namely, common EU visa policy is a high political priority for all Member States."

At the Troika meeting the ministers agreed that all Member States had to observe common guidelines in talks with the USA, making a distinction between Community competences and national competences. Representatives of the USA agreed to use a twin-track approach in concluding memorandums of understanding and implementing agreements concerning the visa-free regime. They will discuss issues of national competence with national authorities, while matters under Community competence will be negotiated with EU bodies.

Due to the initial decision of the United States to conduct exclusively bilateral negotiations with the Member States, also on topics that fall within Community competence, the Commission had analysed competences in this area and prepared a proposal for a mandate for negotiations with the USA. Minister Mate pointed out: "The first half of our presidency was marked by coordinating the mandate, which was approved at the Friday meeting of the Council of Ministers. The Slovenian Presidency of the EU Council will continue to search for the best solution in order to meet the requirements of the new American legislation and as well as be in accordance with EU legislation."

By the end of this year the USA will introduce a new system of issuing authorisations to travel to the USA, which will apply to all EU Member States (ESTA). Both sides agreed that the Presidency and the Commission should immediately begin open discussions with the USA on what this system will be like, as all European passengers will have to be informed in a timely manner of the new way of travelling to the USA. The Presidency and the European Commission will present the position of the EU Member States to the US side, and it is expected that by June we will reach a political consensus on the type of data the USA will require and the manner of transmission. The first meeting took place on 14 March in Brussels.

Minister Mate also informed the MEPs of the Presidency's intention to complete the work of the special group for data exchange with the USA. In the one year of its existence, the group has established that the EU and USA protect data in a similar way, and thus we support the idea that this group should examine the possibility of the EU and USA signing an agreement on general principles of data protection. Such an agreement would provide adequate protection of trans-Atlantic transfers of security-related data in the long run.


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Date: 23.04.2008