European Parliament approves visa waivers

The China Post news staff

The European Parliament passed a proposal yesterday granting visa-free privileges to Taiwanese nationals entering 28 European countries, following on from recent visa waiver programs for the United Kingdom and for Ireland. In only five minutes, the parliament approved the proposal by a landslide, with 559 “yes” votes, 40 dissenting votes and 13 abstained from voting. The proposal still needs to clear the Council of the European Union before it can be implemented, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) said later that day. The council is expected to hold discussion on the issue by Dec. 12 or 13 and the program can come into effect by the end of the year at the earliest. The visa waiver program will cover the Schengen Area, which comprises the territories of 25 European countries comprising of 22 EU member states as well as Norway, Iceland and Switzerland. The visa waiver program also includes three non-Schengen EU member states — Romania, Bulgaria and Cyprus.

If passed, the program will signal a milestone for Taiwan’s push in international relations and a significant diplomatic victory for the government and its current detente with mainland China. President Ma Ying-jeou has long argued that warming cross-strait ties will provide incentives for the global community to enhance cooperation with Taiwan. Earlier in the day at the Legislative Yuan’s foreign affairs committee meeting, Lawmaker Tsai Huang-liang of the main opposition Democratic Progressive Party said the EU visa waiver program can be seen as a barometer in cross-strait relations and questioned Minister of Foreign Affairs Timothy Yang if China will pressure related parties in the review of the proposal. The European Commission formally proposed the program on July 5, and it is expected to take six months from that date for Taiwan to reach the final step of the Schengen area visa waiver process. The process went significantly swifter than that for Balkan countries Albania and Bosnia, both of which took over two years to obtain the privileges. In addition to the Schengen area visa waiver, the MOFA is in talks with Australia in order to win Taiwanese nationals the right to apply for visas online. If online applications are introduced, people in Taiwan will only need to fill in application forms on the Internet in order to apply for Australian visas, which would almost be like a visa waiver, said Yang. Currently Australia grants visa waivers only to New Zealand nationals. The ministry is also negotiating with Malaysia for 30-day reciprocal visa waivers for the two countries. Taiwan has already granted 30-day visa waivers to Malaysian nationals but the Taiwanese people have yet to receive the same privilege from the Southeast Asian country. The MOFA expected talks with Malaysia to go on for at least six to twelve months before there will be any progress, Yang said.