Dr Charles Tannock

Member of the European Parliament for London

EU member states approve visa-free travel for Taiwan citizens

The Parliament - 29 November 2010

UK deputy Charles Tannock says that enabling Taiwanese citizens to travel to the Schengen area of the EU without a visa requirement will "further consolidate" the growing links between Taiwan and the EU.

Tannock, ECR coordinator on the committee on foreign affairs, was speaking after member states approved visa-free travel for Taiwanese citizens to the EU.

Parliament gave its backing to the measure on 11 November.

Tannock, chairman of parliament's Taiwan friendship group, said the assembly had given staunch support to the Taiwanese government over the issue, lobbying the European commission to propose the measure and taking up the issue with EU member states.

He pointed out that his own country, the UK which is not part of the Schengen area has allowed Taiwanese visitors visa-free entry for the past year.

He added that the UK's experience was entirely positive and had helped to convince other EU countries of the merits of extending this status to Taiwanese citizens.

Tannock said that by granting visa-free privileges to Taiwanese citizens, the EU was "reflecting the shared values of democracy, human rights and the rule of law."

He said that it was also a "sign of solidarity" with the people of Taiwan.

Tannock commented that the measure would considerably enhance business and trading relationships between Taiwan and the EU.

He added, "The EU is rapidly catching up with the United States as the destination of choice for Taiwanese students, graduates and researchers, and visa-free access to the EU would accelerate this development."

Tannock said, "I am delighted for the people and government of Taiwan that the EU has finally been able to grant Taiwanese citizens visa-free access to the Schengen area.

"By taking this step the EU is acknowledging that it shares common values and aspirations with Taiwan.

"MEPs have been instrumental in pressing for the EU to grant visa-free status to Taiwanese visitors.

"This is also a sign that we in the EU value our relationship in Taiwan despite its decades of political isolation.

"We see this as a pragmatic and mutually advantageous step, which reflects president Ma's own strategy both in terms of EU-Taiwan relations and cross-straits relations.

"The already strong business and commercial relationship between Taiwan and the EU is bound to get even stronger now that it's much easier for Taiwanese citizens to visit and travel throughout Europe.

"This measure will also boost Europe's universities, which are looking to attract talented and ambitious Taiwanese students."

The European commission said that the visa-free privilege the EU has granted to Taiwan is expected to boost the number of Taiwanese tourist arrivals by at least 30 percent.

Having cleared the last legislative hurdle Taiwan's inclusion in the programme will go into effect in January 2011.

The visa exemption will apply to 25 countries in the Schengen Area, which comprise 22 member states and three non-EU states, Norway, Iceland and Switzerland. In addition, the exemption will also apply to three non-Schengen EU member states -- Romania, Bulgaria and Cyprus.

More than 175,000 Schengen visas were issued in Taiwan last year, according to the commission. In a statement, the commission said due to the visa waiver, the number of Taiwan visitors to the EU is expected to rise by at least 30 percent.

"Today is a very important day for EU-Taiwan relations and I welcome the council's decision giving the green light to our proposal," said commissioner Cecilia Malmstrom in the statement.

The commission said the EU is an important destination for Taiwanese who travel overseas either for tourism or for business purposes, with the EU ranking as the fourth largest trade partner of Taiwan.

"Waiving the visa obligation for Taiwan will facilitate people-to-people contacts, enhance business opportunities and give the possibility for them to get to know the EU better, " Malmstrom said.

The visa waiver will allow Taiwanese passport holders to enter the European countries included in the program without visas and stay for up to 90 days within a six-month period.

The programme will also apply to seven other European countries and territories to bring the number of European countries which grant Taiwan the visa-free privilege to 35.

The news was welcomed by Taiwan foreign minister Timothy Yang ,who said, "It is a great news that Taiwan has been waiting for so long to hear.

President Ma Ying-jeou described Taiwan's imminent inclusion in the programme as a major accomplishment in the country's diplomatic history.

The visa exemption will be of even greater benefit for Taiwanese with business operations in China and their dependents. They now need to apply on the mainland for a Schengen visa to travel to Europe if they have lived on the mainland for over six months, which usually takes long time to complete.

The programme will also apply to seven European countries and territories including the Vatican, Monaco, Andorra, Liechtenstein, San Marino, Greenland and the Faroe Islands.

The visa exemption increases the total number of countries granting Taiwan such a privilege to 96, including 75 countries granting Taiwan passport holders a visa-waiver privilege and 21 countries offering Taiwanese visitors a visa on arrival.

"We are working to push the number to 100 by next year - the 100th anniversary of the Republic of China," said a Taiwan official.
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