By Caribbean News Now contributor
BRUSSELS, Belgium -- The European Council has amended the list of non-European Union (EU) countries whose nationals are exempt from the Schengen area visa requirement. The Council adopted a new regulation listing the third countries whose nationals must be in possession of visas when crossing the external borders and those whose nationals are exempt from that requirement.
According to the amended regulation, Caribbean nationals from Colombia, Dominica, Grenada, Saint Lucia, St Vincent and the Grenadines, and Trinidad and Tobago will be exempt from the visa requirement when travelling to the Schengen zone. However, this exemption will come into force only when bilateral agreements on visa waivers between the EU and the countries concerned have been concluded, in order to ensure full reciprocity.
According to the European Council, the evolving nature of the EU's visa policy and the increased need to ensure more coherence between visa policy and other EU policies justify that some additional criteria be taken into account when reviewing the lists of countries subject to the visa requirement and countries exempt from that requirement.
To this end, the amending regulation inserts a new article stating that the purpose of the latter is to determine those third countries whose nationals are subject to or exempt from the visa requirement, based on a case-by-case assessment of a variety of criteria relating, inter alia, to illegal immigration, public policy and security, the economic benefits, in particular in terms of tourism and foreign trade, and the EU's external relations with the relevant third countries including, in particular, human rights and fundamental freedoms considerations, as well as the implications of regional coherence and reciprocity.
Regarding Colombia, the amended regulation states that the Commission will further assess the situation with regard to the criteria set out in the new article before the opening of negotiations on bilateral agreements on visa waiver.
The relevant European Council regulation was recently amended to introduce a new safeguard clause ("suspension mechanism") allowing the temporary reintroduction of the visa requirement -- in specific circumstances -- for nationals of a third country who can normally travel to the EU without a visa. The new rules also strengthened the retaliation mechanism towards a breach of reciprocity by a third country ("reciprocity mechanism"), i.e. how to deal with situations where a country reintroduces a visa requirement for nationals of a particular or of several EU member states.