Prague seeks EU solidarity in visa row with Canada

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The Czech Republic objected to the reintroduction of visas for its citizens by Canada on Tuesday (14 July), summoning the Canadian ambassador for talks and asking fellow EU members for support in getting the decision reversed.

Canada reinstated visa requirements for Czech visitors on Tuesday after hundreds of Roma from the Central European ex-communist state had sought asylum there. 

The Roma asylum seekers say they have been discriminated against by the majority ethnic Czech population, a view backed by human rights agencies. 

"The government considers reimposing the visa duty a unilateral and unfriendly step," Prime Minister Jan Fischer told reporters after a special government meeting called to debate the Canada move. 

The visa requirement for the Czech Republic had been lifted in 2007 and the number of refugee claims shot up after that. The government said it suspected many cases were not genuine as they were withdrawn or abandoned before a final decision was made. 

Fischer said that, along with other measures, the Czechs would call their ambassador to Canada back to Prague for consultation and introduce visas for Canadian diplomats and civil servants. 

Being a member of the European Union, the Czech Republic cannot reciprocally and individually impose visas on Canadians as it must respect the policy of the bloc as a whole, which has a non-visa arrangement with Canada. 

Fischer said Czech diplomats would launch talks with the European Commission which should propose steps toward Canada within three months. He blamed Canada's asylum system for the Czech Roma outflow to the North American state, saying it was prone to abuse. 

(EurActiv with Reuters.) 

Positions: 

Czech Prime Minister Jan Fischer  said he feared the introduction of visas for Czech citizens may fuel Czech extremism in the campaign for national elections, which are due in October. "It cannot be ruled out that the visa introduction will be a good stimulus for extremist parties and their effort to be more visible," Fischer said after an extraordinary government meeting. 

The European Commission regretted the move by Canada to re-impose visas on Czech nationals, but made it plain that it does not envisage introducing reciprocal measures. Commission spokesperson Michele Cercone insisted that Brussels saw the development as "a temporary measure" by Ottawa, and hoped that freedom of circulation between the Czech Republic and Canada would soon be reinstated. 

The centre-right EPP group, the largest in the European Parliament, issued a statement calling for all governments of the 27 EU members to apply pressure on Canada to reverse its decision to impose visas on Czech nationals. 

"The EPP Group cannot see a valid reason behind the Canadian visa decision and asks the Canadian Government to lift the measure without delay," reads the statement, signed by EPP chairman Joseph Daul and Zuzana Roithová, head of the Czech delegation in the group. 

Slovak Foreign Minister Miroslav Lajcak fully backed the Czech government and also called for EU solidarity with Prague. 

"We fully back the Czech government in its endeavours to achieve the renewal of a visa-free regime, and we're ready to proceed in this way at the EU level, where further steps will be decided on," said the Slovak minister. 

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