Libya and Switzerland to meet about visa bans

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Map of Schengen nations

██ Full Schengen EU members

██ Non-EU Schengen members

██ Future members

██ Cooperating countries

Libya and Switzerland have reportedly agreed to meet in an effort to resolve a diplomatic row about travel visas.

Micheline Calmy-Rey of Switzerland and Moussa Koussa of Libya will meet in the presence of Miguel Ángel Moratinos of Spain. All three are the heads of foreign relations for their respective countries. The meeting comes at the urging of Malta and Italy.

Libya announced on Tuesday that it has suspended and/or revoked visas given to citizens of the Schengen Area of Europe. Four Italian citizens have been detained at the Tripoli International Airport pending deportation, as their visas have been revoked.

Confirming the situation, a Libyan official told Reuters: "This is right. This decision has been taken. No visas for Europeans, except Britain."

Malta has had eight citizens turned back. One of these told The Times of Malta, "They treated us like hostages, not even allowing us out of the room to stretch our legs."

The European Commission released a statement saying it "deplores the unilateral and disproportionate" action by Libya and that affected nations will consider an "appropriate reaction."

"The Commission also regrets that travellers who legally obtained visas before the suspension measure were refused entry when arriving in Libya," said EU commissioner for Home Affairs, Cecilia Malmström.

Libya and Switzerland have been in a diplomatic row for many months. In July 2008, the Swiss for two days detained Libyan leader Muammar al-Gaddafi's son, Hannibal, after hotel staff in Geneva complained of being assaulted. Hannibal was given a suspended sentence and released.

Since then, Libya has withdrawn more than US$5 billion (3.6 billlion) from Swiss banks and cut of oil exports to Switzerland. Libya then detained two Swiss businessmen and sentenced one to 16 months of prison on visa violation charges.

In November, 2009, Switzerland asked Schengen nations to restrict Libyan visas. Subsequently, Libyan Prime Minister Baghdadi Mahmudi and other officials have been denied Schengen visas.

Italy came down on Switzerland, saying the Swiss must "resolve this bi-lateral issue ... but not at the expense of everyone else."

Sawsan Chebli, a senior German Council on Foreign Relations (DGAP) said that, "The EU is Libya’s greatest trade and export partner. This is a leverage the EU could use. However, Italy and other EU member states with close relations with Libya in the past have shown that they are not interested to spoil their relations with Libya whatever Gaddafi’s action may be. That is not likely to change. And the problem is that Gaddafi knows that he is able to divide the EU."

"The Italians care very little about the EU or other states when it comes to business relations," Chebli added.