Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) approved visa-free travel for up to 90 days for citizens of Kuwait, if it agrees to a moratorium on death penalties, as well as for Qatar, Oman and Ecuador.

In a draft report approved on 1 December (42 votes in favor, 16 against, 0 abstaining), the European Parliament’s Civil Liberties Committee endorsed a proposal to grant visa-free travel of up to 90 days to citizens of Kuwait, Qatar, Oman and Ecuador. In the case of Kuwait, MEPs support visa freedom on condition of a moratorium on the application of the death penalty, which should be in place before visa freedom is implemented through bilateral negotiations.

MEPs note that there are serious concerns about human rights and fundamental freedoms in Kuwait, Qatar and Oman, notably concerning workers’ rights, women’s rights, LGBTQ+ people’s rights, freedom of religion, freedom of speech, right of assembly, torture, and the death penalty. They believe that visa freedom can be used to develop the partnership between EU countries and the Gulf states, and emphasize that a human rights dialogue must be a part of such development. The dialogue should happen at least annually, and the European Parliament should be informed of progress, say MEPs, and add that visa waivers should be canceled if there is no progress in the areas of concern. They also emphasize that women, members of the LGBTQ+ community and stateless persons must be able to travel independently and benefit from the visa freedom.

In addition to Kuwait and Qatar, which were mentioned in the Commission’s original proposal, MEPs also advocate for granting visa-free travel to Oman and Ecuador, noting that they fulfill the same criteria as Kuwait and Qatar. MEPs note that Ecuador has consistently demonstrated its commitment to respecting human rights, although more work is needed on prison conditions, women’s rights and the rights of indigenous peoples and refugees, among other things.

After the vote, rapporteur Erik Marquardt (Greens/EFA, DE) said: “Visa-free travel brings the world closer together and gives the European Union a powerful instrument to advocate for human rights. The visa waiver is not a gift for third countries but a chance to work on improvements together.”

The draft legislation will now have to be endorsed by the full house of the European Parliament. Then, the Parliament and Council will negotiate on the final form of the legislation. When the law has entered into force, each visa waiver would be negotiated bilaterally between the European Union and third countries.

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