EU ministers to grapple with US travel-security demands

(dpa) - The European Union's interior ministers were set Friday to discuss how the bloc should deal with US demands for access to security information on EU citizens travelling to the US.

US demands that the EU provide such information in return for issuing the traveller with an electronic travel authorization "are not possible for negotiations because that is the law in the US, and we must apply that," Slovenia's Interior Minister Dragutin Mate, who chaired the meeting, said.

"We must now find solutions to what kind of data, under what conditions and how we will apply that," Mate said.

Under the EU's Schengen border-free system, member states share security and justice information, such as criminal records, on travellers in a single data-base.

However, while some Schengen states already enjoy a visa-free travel regime with the US, the newer members in Central and Eastern Europe do not.

The EU has promised to address this inequality on behalf of member states, but progress has been slow, and member states have not yet mandated the European Commission - the bloc's executive - to hold talks with the US government on the issue.

In the meantime, a number of new member states - the Czech Republic and the Baltic states among them - have signed bilateral deals with the US paving the way for visa-free travel, saying that the EU-level approach has simply been too slow.

Talks are complicated because some of the passenger data demanded by the US security services are the preserve of EU member states, while other data are held to be the common property of the EU - and can therefore only be surrendered with the agreement of all members.

"If someone has stolen a car, it's national data, even if it's sent to the (Schengen information system), but data on, for example, refusing people for visas, that's European data," Mate said.

But it is "very hard" to list all the fields of data which fall in either category because ministers have not yet mandated the commission to hold talks with the US, he said.

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