MEPs voice concern over ‘discrimination’ faced by some EU citizens when visiting UK

In a letter they have called on the European Commission to take measures to ensure that citizens from Bulgaria, Estonia, Lithuania, Romania and Slovenia no longer face such discrimination.

By Martin Banks

Martin Banks is a senior reporter at the Parliament Magazine

15 Feb 2021

The MEPs say they want to draw the Commission’s attention to “one particular matter of concern for the European citizens.”

Citizens of 21 Member States are subject to a £55 discount when applying for certain UK visas, including programmes aimed at entrepreneurs, health care staff, researchers, charity workers, medium-skilled workers and temporary workers.

However, the MEPs say they have “learned with great concern” that “unfortunately” five EU countries - including Bulgaria, Estonia, Lithuania, Romania and Slovenia - are not eligible for such reduced UK visa fees.

In the letter to Commission Vice-President Maroš Šefčovič, they write, “We believe this must be addressed by the European Commission, as it otherwise risks leading to violations of the EU’s longstanding principle of non-discrimination among Member States.”

“In this context, it must be noted that, while the various work visa tiers of the UK have an important impact on the implementation of many provisions of the EU-UK Trade and Cooperation Agreement, such a decision fuels the rise of a significant unnecessary differentiation and discrimination among the citizens of the European Union.”

The MEPs add, “We are fully aware of the sensitivities surrounding this matter. However, we believe that all options should be explored as our common objective should be to find a way out of this situation, while ensuring that the principle of reciprocity represents the end goal and the priority throughout this sinuous process.”

“Such a decision fuels the rise of a significant unnecessary differentiation and discrimination among the citizens of the European Union” Letter from MEPs to Maroš Šefčovič

Speaking to this website on Monday, one of the letter’s signatories, Pedro Silva Pereira, a vice-president of Parliament and the S&D representative in Parliament’s UK Coordination Group, said “There are no second class citizens in the EU and we cannot tolerate any discrimination between EU citizens from different EU countries. We are calling for the UK government to immediately rectify this discriminatory visa policy.”

The letter is also signed by Dan Nica, head of the Romanian S&D delegation; Bernd Lange, chair of the International Trade Committee; Kati Piri, Co-Rapporteur on the EU-UK TCA consent vote; Petar Vitanov, head of the Bulgarian S&D delegation; Tanja Fajon, head of the Slovenian S&D delegation; Marina Kaljurand, head of the Estonian S&D delegation; Vilija Blinkevičiūtė, head of the Lithuanian S&D delegation and Juozas Olekas of the Lithuanian S&D delegation.

The issue has echoes of a similar problem last year when Bulgarian, Croatian, Cypriot and Romanian nationals complained they still required to hold a visa to enter the US, while all other EU citizens are exempt from that requirement.

Parliament at the time backed “tit-for-tat” retaliatory action against America, saying this is the only way to guarantee free travel rights for all EU citizens.

Meanwhile, Michel Barnier has refused to be drawn on the likelihood of Scotland rejoining the EU as an independent nation after a second referendum.

Speaking at the European Business Summit he said, “This will be choice of the Scottish people. We regret Brexit but will try to implement the divorce as best we can.”

“There are no second-class citizens in the EU and we cannot not tolerate any discrimination between EU citizens from different EU countries. We are calling for the UK government to immediately rectify this discriminatory visa policy” Pedro Silva Pereira, S&D

“Without the UK the EU is still in a strong position but this is a divorce and that is never positive. It is negative.”

Taking part in a Q&A session, he was asked about his personal future. Barnier, currently a special advisor to Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, said he had twice been an EU commissioner, an MEP and Brexit negotiator for the EU since 2016,  adding, “My country is in a very serious situation [with the Coronavirus pandemic] and I will put my energy into the service of my country.”

“I am not a super technocrat but always have been, as I remain, a politician.”

Speaking on Friday, he also revealed he will publish a book “in few weeks” which is expected to give the inside story of the Brexit talks.

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