The European Union's executive delayed a decision Wednesday on whether to reintroduce visas for citizens of the United States and Canada, in a dispute triggered by the two countries' refusal to lift visa requirements for some European citizens.
Bulgarians and Romanians do not enjoy visa-free access to the US or Canada, while Washington also has Croatia, Cyprus and Poland on that list. Meanwhile, US and Canadian nationals can travel to Europe without a visa.
"We cannot accept that EU citizens from certain countries should be second-class citizens," Green EU lawmaker Reinhard Buetikofer told the German magazine WirtschaftsWoche, calling for curbs on the visa freedom granted to US citizens, if necessary.
"Achieving full visa waiver reciprocity for citizens of all member states is ... a fundamental principle of our common visa policy," EU Migration Commisioner Dimitris Avramopoulos said Wednesday.
But the issue is not yet resolved, despite intensified contacts with Washington and Ottawa over the last three months, he added. The most recent round of talks took place in Brussels on Monday with ministers from Canada, Bulgaria and Romania.
"What these talks confirmed is a clear perspective of progress in coming months," Avramopoulos said, adding that Canada was expected to provide an assessment and a timeline to resolve the issue "in early autumn." An EU-Canada summit is scheduled for October.
In the case of the US, Avramopoulos noted however that the issue could not be resolved ahead of elections in November, in which US President Barack Obama's successor will be chosen.
"We are aware of the electoral timetable and have to take this into account when we consider the most appropriate way forward to pursue our dialogue," the commissioner said.
He indicated that the issue could be tackled at a meeting of EU and US justice and interior ministers scheduled for the end of the year.
The European Commission has so far stopped short of recommending that the visa waiver for US citizens be suspended, underlining the adverse consequences of such a move.
If Washington were to retaliate by requiring visas for travellers from all EU member states, it would generate some 2.5 billion euros (2.8 billion dollars) in extra costs for citizens and companies in the bloc, the commission has estimated.