EU officials are crying foul over Department of Homeland Security attempts to impose draconian and invasive data requirements on passengers travelling to the US. The US demands, however, are remarkably similar to the ones the EU itself proposes to make of passengers travelling to Europe, making the officials shouting "blackmail" and "troublesome" somewhat unlikely guardians of the citizenry's freedoms.
The problem for Brussels, essentially, is not that the DHS is making the requirements but that it's making them without giving Brussels enough of a chance to play too, and it's striking deals with individual member states. DHS officials are said to be circulating a ten page memorandum of understanding to EU member states which do not currently qualify for the US Visa Waiver Programme (these are mainly Eastern European new-entrants), but which could achieve visa-free travel under the new-look system if they'll just sign here.
We covered this some months ago. Essentially the DHS intends to introduce a 'clear to fly' pre-authorisation system whereby would-be travellers submit their details online prior to buying a ticket. This, the Electronic Travel Authorization (ETA) system, is described by the DHS as a continuation of the VWP, but could just as readily (although less photogenically) be described as online visas for all. Brussels doesn't actually oppose it because it wants to play too, and just last month EU Justice Commissioner Franco Frattini reiterated this, calling on the EU and the US to work together to set up a compatible system.
Brussels, however, has been ineffectual when it comes to getting the non-VWP EU states into the VWP, allowing the DHS to sell ETA to these as a massive convenience, even a liberalisation. As Czech deputy prime minister Alexandr Vondra told the Guardian: "There was no help, no solidarity in the past. It's in our interest to move ahead. We can't just wait and do nothing. We have to act in the interest of our citizens."
Richard Barth from the DHS visited Prague last week, and generally positive local reports viewed a bilateral agreement as a near certainty. Other non-VWP states thought likely to jump include Estonia and Greece. ®