By James McAuley May 20 at 3:37 PM
PARIS — The European Commission reached a preliminary agreement Friday making it easier to suspend visa-free travel for non-E.U. citizens from certain countries that fail to meet their obligations to the 28-member bloc.
The pact reached by E.U. interior and migration ministers would allow the European Union to suspend its visa waiver programs with some countries as a kind of emergency brake system on visa liberalization amid heightened security concerns across Europe.
It comes in the midst of Europe’s worst migrant crisis since World War II, in which more than 1 million migrants and refugees arrived on European soil in 2015.
In the E.U.’s search for a solution, visa liberalization has been used as leverage. Turkey, for instance, demanded visa-free travel for its citizens as a reward for taking back migrants from continental Europe — a demand that left many E.U. leaders skeptical.
“We need an emergency brake for all visa-free countries to make sure that visa liberalization cannot be abused,” Klass Dijkhoff, the Dutch migration minister, told the Associated Press in Brussels on Friday.
In addition to Turkey, Kosovo, Georgia and Ukraine are seeking visa-free travel status within what is known as the Schengen area of the European Union.
According to E.U. officials, the general emphasis of Friday’s agreement — which will now pass to the European Parliament for further discussion — is to expand the suspension criteria already in place.
Under the terms of the new agreement, which remain tentative, the time period before a particular country can be challenged and sanctioned for abusing privileges will now decrease from six months to as few as two, an E.U. official told The Washington Post.
Additionally, the European Commission would be allowed to directly confront specific countries, instead of waiting for individual member states to act on their own.
These new criteria also emerge amid ongoing revelations about ways in which the Islamic State has used the general chaos of the migrant route to easily send its operatives into Europe, where they have perpetrated terrorist attacks. Two men sent by the Islamic State in the summer of 2015, for instance, were involved in the Nov. 13 attacks on Paris, which killed 130 people and injured hundreds more in a coordinated series of bombings and shootings across the city.
In the aftermath of those attacks, security concerns remain high all over Europe. In France on Thursday, President François Hollande extended for a third time the national state of emergency he declared on Nov. 14.
On Friday, French Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve told reporters that visa liberalization cannot “happen without any precautions” or “without a managed calendar.”
“So we have taken an extremely firm position,” he said.
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