Libya is refusing to grant visas to most citizens of the European Union as retaliation against a decision by the Swiss government to bar senior Libyan officials.
The Libyan ban affects citizens of the Schengen area, which includes all EU member states except the UK and Ireland and, in addition, Iceland, Norway and Switzerland. The Libyan move comes in response to a Swiss entry ban on 188 regime figures.
Cecilia Malmström, the European commissioner for home affairs, said in a statement yesterday (15 February), that the European Commission is studying, together with the member states, an “appropriate response” to Libya’s escalation of the visa quarrel.
The row between Libya and Switzerland began in the summer of 2008, when a son of Muammar Qaddafi, Libya’s leader, was arrested by police in Geneva after two servants accused him of abuse. Among Libya’s retaliation measures was the detention of two Swiss businessmen, who are still barred from leaving the country. This prompted the Swiss to bar Qaddafi, his family and dozens of top officials. Since Switzerland is a member of the Schengen area, which has no internal border controls, the ban applies to all other Schengen countries as well.
On Sunday, Libya denied entry to a group of tourists from the EU – most of them from Malta – even though they held valid visas. Some of them were allowed to enter the country after diplomatic interventions, but Libya has made it clear that it will no longer issue visitors’ or business visas to travellers holding Schengen passports, or honour visas that have already been issued.
Franco Frattini, Italy’s foreign minister, suggested that Switzerland was holding the rest of Europe “hostage” because of its bilateral row with Libya. Italy and Germany are among Libya’s most important trade and investment partners. The Commission is in the process of negotiating a partnership agreement with Libya, although the talks have proceeded slowly.
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