MEPs ask Canada to lift visa requirements for all EU citizens

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The European Parliament called on Canada to ensure visa-free travel for all EU citizens in a wide-ranging resolution adopted yesterday (5 May) by a show of hands. EURACTIV Czech Republic contributed to this article.

The resolution, adopted on the occasion of yesterday's EU-Canada summit in Brussels, saw MEPs restate their concern that Canada is still imposing visa requirements on citizens of the Czech Republic, Romania and Bulgaria.

"The European Parliament calls for that requirement to be lifted as speedily as possible," the text reads.

Regarding the special case of Czech Republic, with which Canada had a visa-free regime between 2007 and 2009, MEPs called on member states "to adequately address the situation of the Roma people in Europe".

Canada reinstated visa requirements for Czech visitors on July 2009 after hundreds of Roma from the Central European country had sought asylum there (see 'Background').

Parliamentarians also welcomed in their resolution the opening of a visa office at the Canadian Embassy in Prague, as well as the establishment of an expert working group on the issue.

Before last December, because Canada did not had a visa service in Czech Republic, Czechs were forced to apply for Canadian visas in Vienna (EURACTIV 22/09/09). 

Little progresses during summit

According to the Canadian press, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper and EU leaders reaffirmed during yesterday's EU-Canada summit their commitment to resolving the remaining obstacles to achieving the common goal of visa-free travel to Canada for all EU citizens as soon as possible.

However, the two sides appear to have made little progress on the issue at what was the first EU-Canada summit since visa requirements were re-imposed. Harper said that he hoped to lift the restrictions "as soon as possible," but added that improved immigration legislation, currently going through parliament in Ottawa, would have to be introduced beforehand.

The adoption of the new legislation could take several years, EURACTIV Czech Republic reports.

"The European Commission is also active. But I can imagine it could be more active or more aggressive," Czech Foreign Minister Jan Kohout said on Czech television.

Before the summit, Czech MEPs sent a letter to Canadian representatives asking them to determine a precise timetable for lifting visa requirements.

"The head of the [European People's Party] group Joseph Daul's signature of the letter proves that the strongest parliamentary group is in the same boat as Czech citizens," said Christian Democrat MEP Jan B?ezina, the initiator of the letter.

Since Canada lifted visa requirements for Czech citizens in 2007, almost 3,000 asylum requests have been filed there by Czech citizens, mostly of Roma origin. In comparison, in 2006 only five asylum requests by Czechs were filed in Canada. 

According to Czech and Canadian media, the vast majority of the asylum requests came from Czech Roma. Canada, which provides a generous social package for asylum seekers, said the wave of Czech asylum seekers was draining the capacity and budget of its immigration services.

Thus Canada reinstated visa requirements for Czech visitors in July 2009, provoking fury in Prague and the European Union institutions (EURACTIV 15/07/09).

In September 2009, the previous EU commissioner in charge of justice, freedom and security, Jacques Barrot, threatened Canada with retaliatory measures. He suggested imposing an EU visa requirement on Canadian diplomatic passport holders as a first sanction (EURACTIV 22/09/09).

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