BRUSSELS -- Top justice officials from the European Union (EU) and the United States discussed Thursday in Brdo, Slovenia, the issue of the US Visa Waiver Program, which the EU hopes will allow all EU citizens to travel to America without a visa as soon as possible.
"Our goal is for all EU Member States to be included in this program as soon as possible, so that all EU citizens can travel to the United States without a visa, just like US citizens, who do not require a visa for any of the EU member states," said Dragutin Mate, interior minister of Slovenia, which holds the current rotating EU presidency.
Washington's decision to conduct bilateral negotiations on the issue with individual EU member states, including the elements that are exclusively within the competence of the EU, was a matter of collective concern for the bloc, he said after the EU justice and home affairs ministerial Troika meeting with US representatives, according to reports from Brdo.
The EU's executive, the European Commission, has performed an analysis of competences, prepared a proposal for a mandate for talks with the United States and submitted it to the EU Council for adoption.
"Cooperation will be required in searching for the best solution, which will satisfy the requirements of new US legislation and will be in accordance with EU law," said Mate.
Currently, only 15 EU member states enjoy the US visa waiver. Citizens from Greece and 11 of the 12 newest states -- Slovenia is the exception -- are obliged to have visas, even for a short stay, when they travel to America.
Reports said the Slovenian EU presidency had suggested that it could engage, together with the European Commission, in "exploratory talks" with America on the shape and content of the electronic system of travel authorization (ESTA).
Participants to Thursday's meeting also included Slovenian Justice Minister Lovro Sturm, European Commission Vice-President and Commissioner for Justice Affairs Franco Frattini and Brice Hortefeux, French Minister of Immigration as a representative of the next EU presidency. The American delegation was led by Secretary of Homeland Security Michael Chertoff and Attorney General Michael B. Mukasey.
Besides the visa issue, both sides also discussed border security, the developments in Western Balkans and mutual legal assistance.