Sofia, July 12, 2016/ Independent Balkan News Agency
By Clive Leviev-Sawyer of The Sofia Globe
Canadian technical experts will visit Bulgaria at the end of July 2016, after visiting Romania last month, as a part of the process of discussions on the possibility of Ottawa lifting visa requirements for Bulgarians and Romanians.
Canadian immigration minister John McCallum has undertaken “to inform European partners in early autumn on the outcomes of the assessments and timelines for visa liftings, including the necessary elements of cooperation by Romania and Bulgaria”.
This emerged after a meeting in Brussels on July 11 hosted by European Home Affairs Commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos and involving McCallum, Bulgarian Deputy Interior Minister Philip Gounev, Bulgarian Deputy Foreign Minister Roumean Alexandrov and the head of the Romanian prime minister’s chancellery, Ioan Dragoș Tudorache.
Bulgaria and Romania are pressing Canada to remove visa requirements for their citizens. They are alone among EU countries in Canada requiring visas. Sofia and Bucharest have indicated that unless the visa requirements are removed, they could block an EU-Canada trade deal.
In a joint statement after the July 11 talks, Avramopoulos and McCallum said that as a follow-up to May 23 talks between them, “we were very pleased to continue our productive dialogue on visa issues”.
“We discussed the visit that Canadian technical experts undertook to Romania last month, as well as the similar visit to Bulgaria, which is planned for the end of July. Minister McCallum thanked the governments of Romania and Bulgaria for their continued collaboration in supporting the assessment process, which is expected to be completed this summer. Commissioner Avramopoulos reiterated that the objective of the European Union is full visa reciprocity for all its member states,” the joint statement said.
“We acknowledged the need to take tangible steps in order to improve the current situation, in which Bulgarian and Romanian citizens are required to obtain visas to travel to Canada.”
To continue in this spirit of constructive engagement, McCallum undertook to inform European partners in early autumn on the outcomes of the assessments and timelines for visa liftings, including the necessary elements of co-operation by Romania and Bulgaria.
“Our dialogues underline the importance of the strong bonds between Canada and the European Union. They also reflect our countries’ mutual goal of visa-free travel to Canada for all European Union member states,” the statement said.
“We all remain optimistic that our meetings this week, and our ongoing close cooperation, will bring us closer to achieving that goal.”
A statement by the Bulgarian Interior Ministry said that Gounev and Alexandrov had expressed the strong position that the abolition of visas for Bulgarian citizens for Canada was among the government’s priorities.
“We see the implementation of the visa regime for Bulgarians as unjustified unequal treatment not consistent with the achieved level of bilateral relations with Canada, with which Bulgaria is a Nato ally, sharing common values and co-operating successfully in international organisations,” the Bulgarian statement said.
Reciprocity goes beyond the specific visa policies and affects the overall EU-Canada relations, which aim at reaching the level of strategic partnership with the negotiation of the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA).
The Bulgarian statement made it clear that the country saw the conclusion of CETA and the achievement of full visa reciprocity as linked processes.
“We expect that before the planned October meeting of the EU-Canada summit our Canadian partners should present a clear timetable for the removal of visa restrictions for Bulgarian citizens.”
Bulgaria thanked the Commission for its constructive engagement in dialogue with the Canadian side.
“We are confident that the Commission will take all necessary actions to enable Bulgarian citizens to benefit from the possibility of visa-free travel to Canada,” the Bulgarian statement said.