Dr Charles Tannock

Member of the European Parliament for London

Visa-free move heralds 'new era' for EU-Taiwan relations

The Parliament - 27 January 2011

by Martin Banks

Senior UK MEP Charles Tannock says the EU's decision to grant visa-free travel to Europe for Taiwanese citizens "heralds a new phase in EU-Taiwan relations".

Speaking in parliament the ECR member welcomed the move which, he said, is expected to significantly boost two-way travel between member states and Taipei, the Taiwan capital.

The visa-free waiver for Taiwanese people came into effect earlier this month after an intense lobbying campaign.

Addressing a special reception in parliament to mark the introduction of visa-free travel for Taiwan poeple, Tannock pointed out that Ireland and the UK, which introduced visa-free travel earlier, has subsequently recorded a 40 per cent rise in travel to and from Taiwan.

Tannock said that as well as tourists, the move would benefit students, pointing out that there are some 30,000 Taiwanese students currently studying at universities in Europe.

He said the decision "heralds a new era" for relations between the two sides, adding, "It speaks volumes for the progress made by Taiwan in democracy, the rule of law and human rights."

Tannock will lead a 10-strong parliamentary delegation to Taiwan later this year as part of celebrations to mark the country's 100th anniversary.

His comments were endorsed by David Lin, Taiwan's representative to the EU and Belgium, who said, "The visa-free move is a very important development for both ourselves and the EU. It will lead to increased cooperation and investment."

Other MEPs attending the event included former ALDE leader Graham Watson and Astrid Lulling, the veteran EPP member from Luxembourg.

Meanwhile, in the wake of the decision it has emerged that several European countries are considering establishing offices in Taiwan.

Taiwan deputy foreign minister Shen Lyushun said, "With the visa-waiver and the economic cooperation framework agreement with China both going into effect in January, many European countries are trying to gain leverage and several of them might set up offices in Taiwan."

Speaking at an event hosted by the European chambers of commerce in Taipei (ECCT) he declined to specify to which countries he was referring, saying that "it is too early to announce anything".

The diplomat, who is familiar with European affairs having previously served in Geneva and Brussels, also said two more European countries or overseas territories are on the way to granting Taiwanese passport holders visa exemptions, which will push the total number of countries extending the privilege to Taiwan to 99.

The EU visa-waiver was one of Taiwan's great diplomatic accomplishments of the past year, Shen said in a speech, titled "New chapter in EU-Taiwan relations."

Shen highlighted Taiwan's extensive efforts to make Taipei the most business and tourism-friendly city in East Asia, with measures including the signing of the ECFA and agreements with China on shipping and aviation, as well as on intellectual property rights.

These measures can all help foreign businessmen in Taiwan, he told the ECCT.

Shen said that the next tangible target in EU-Taiwan development will be the signing of trade enhancement measures, which he described as "something similar to a free trade agreement".

He acknowledged that the topic could be "politically sensitive" due to possible opposition from China, but said the EU and Taiwan could use a block-building approach, starting signing other agreements on issues such as avoidance of double-taxation and investment promotion.

"At the end of the day, the lack of diplomatic ties still hurts Taiwan," Shen said as he urged European countries to be more active on the issue.