Countries seeking visa-free EU entry need shake-up: Germany

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Countries pushing for visa-free access to the European Union need to get their house in order first, German Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere said Wednesday.

"Many countries would like to eliminate visas, and some problems will have to be resolved on the national levels," de Maiziere told participants at the Krynica Economic Forum in southern Poland.

"There are some countries -- Turkey, for example -- that do not meet the requirements that they promised to resolve," he said at the annual gathering of politicians and business leaders, which focuses on the ex-communist bloc.

"We have to combine the new visa policy with reminding those countries that they have some responsibilities, like for example taking back their citizens that illegally entered Europe or those who overstay their visas," he added.

Granting visa-free entry has long been a major tool of EU diplomacy.

It often marks a milestone for would-be entrants to the 27-nation club, such as Poland, which joined in 2004.

Last December, for example, the EU lifted visa requirements for Serbia, Montenegro and Macedonia.

Besides Turkey, Ukraine and Russia are among the countries pushing for visa-free access -- also arguing that it would smooth business ties.

Under a plan pushed by Warsaw, residents of Russia's Baltic territory of Kaliningrad, sandwiched between Poland the fellow 2004 EU entrant Lithuania, would be granted special visa-free rights before those in the mainland.

Visiting Lithuania on Monday, German Chancellor Angela Merkel gave cautious backing to the plan.

"We are in the process of discussing this in the EU. We need to change the rules, because this goes beyond small-scale border crossings," she told reporters in the Lithuanian capital Vilnius.

"In principle, Germany views positively this suggestion made by Poland," she said.

"There will certainly be an easing of the current visa rules, but as far as total waiving of visas is concerned, there's still a long way to go," she added.

© 2010 AFP

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