28th Jan 2020

Czechs want EU response after Canada imposes visas

The Czech government has called for EU solidarity after Canada decided to stop its visa-free regime with Prague due to an increasing number of Czech Roma applicants for asylum in Canada.

Two years after abolishing visa requirements for Czechs as a new member nation of the European Union, Canada re-introduced the visa obligation for all visitors from the country on Tuesday (14 July), following several diplomatic warnings about the likely move.

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  • Czech PM Jan Fischer (r) has lobbyied the European Commission on the issue (Photo: European Commission)

Although aware of the problem of asylum seekers of Roma origin and Ottawa's plans to tackle it, Czech officials stated that the decision was one-sided and unfair and should be protested by all of Europe.

As a response Prague withdrew its ambassador to Canada and imposed visas for Canadian diplomats. Imposition of visas for all Canadian citizens would need to be agreed in co-operation with other EU states.

But the Czech government has also officially requested the European Commission to invoke the bloc's solidarity procedure which could theoretically result in a decision by all 27 EU member states to introduce visa to Canada.

"I'm curious to know how the other EU member states will react," Czech prime minister Jan Fischer told reporters in Strasbourg on Tuesday, after meeting commission president Jose Manuel Barroso to discuss the matter.

The Czech leader said Mr Barroso had already spoken to Canadian prime minister Stephen Harper and promised he would try hard to help Prague to achieve the lifting of the visa requirements from Czechs.

"We expect the measures introduced by Canada to be temporary, and we hope that full visa-free travel between the EU and Canada is re-established soon," the commission spokesman Michele Cercone told journalists in Brussels.

The EU executive will reply to Prague's official request within three months and submit a report assessing the demand for reciprocity to the council, representing member states. The council then has another three months to decide what action to take.

But Canadian authorities have defended their proceedings and refuted Prague's criticism. The country's immigration minister Jason Kenney also downplayed the possibility of a joint EU reaction as asked for by the Czechs.

"I met with [the EU's] acting ambassador yesterday and they gave no indication of such a measure," he told CTV News Channel Tuesday afternoon.

The minister argued that Canada cannot let migrants from other countries abuse its "generous, open immigration system, one of the most generous in the world."

"We can't allow the systematic abuse of people who are basically coming to Canada as economic migrants, jumping the queue, by going through the backdoor of the asylum system," said Mr Kenney.

Czech citizens submitted 1,720 asylum claims in Canada in the first half of 2009, twice as many as in the whole of 2008, with the majority of claims made by Czech Roma citizens complaining about discrimination in their home country.

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