October 23, 2008
The Hungarian president has vetoed the ratification of the Hungarian-American visa waiver agreement due to concerns about data protection issues. The new American visa waiver scheme that involves six European Union members has been the cause of unpleasant debates within Europe.
Obtaining an American tourist visa is costly, and the procedure is at least unpleasant, probably harms the dignity of the applicants. Central European countries have huge diasporas in the U.S. and family visits have been cumbersome or sometimes impossible, as many citizens of these countries did not qualify for an American tourist visa. I think that the old member states have greatly underestimated the importance of this cause to Central European citizens, and also the bitterness that the EU negligence on the issue makes them feel second-class citizens. My during the year of the talks:
The EU formally holds the opinion that the all EU citizens should be treated the same way in the U.S. and granted a possiblity to visit America freely. However, those EU member states where citizens still need to obtain the visa found that the EU is not making any progress, and probably is not pushing very hard on this issue, as for all member states this priviledge is already granted. The governments of the new member states started negotiations with the U.S. on a bilateral basis and excepted American provisions that the EU would generally refuse.
I think that Mr. Sólyom, the Hungarian president and a former constitutional court judge has again shown his uneasy relationship with his own seat.(Mr Sólyom formerly said that he will not visit the U.S. until it collects fingerprints from Hungarians. He was a few months later seen arriving to JFK airport. He said that he only went to the U.N. which has extraterritorial status in New York. The legalistic excuse did resonate well with the electorate…) There is a rare political unity on the cause in Hungary, and many people have been waiting for the opportunity to travel freely to the U.S. for almost two decades. His veto will be swept aside in the Parliament by unanimously, as well as the EU’s partly well founded problems with the American personal data handling packaged in the deal. But the EU was too slow and too inflexible in this case and the ship is gone. (Link: Sólyom visszaküldte a vízummentességi megállapodást)
I truly hope that many Central Europeans will enjoy the benefits of the visa waiver scheme and will visit the United States, visit their families, their relatives graves, discover great places and find new friends.
CC images: My photographs from my recent trip to the U.S.
Update: The Hungarian Parliament will vote on the agreement on 3rd November again. According to Hungary’s constitution, for the second time the president has to sign the bill. The two governments want to have the agreement to be effective from 17 November, so Mr. Sólyom will be in a uncomfortable hurry.
Update: As expected, Mr. Sólyom was overruled by the Parliament swiftly and the visa waiver agreement came into force today, on 17 November.Author : Dániel Antal