EU backs Prague in Canada visa row

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Jacques Barrot, the European Commission vice-president in charge of justice, freedom and security, said yesterday (21 September) that he would ask EU countries to adopt retaliatory measures against Canada if it does not move to lift visa restrictions on Czech citizens by the end of the year.

Speaking to journalists after a meeting of justice and home affairs ministers, Barrot said Canada’s visa obligations for Czech citizens were “unacceptable”. 

Last July, Canada reinstated visa requirements for Czech visitors after hundreds of Roma from the Central European ex-communist state had sought asylum there (EURACTIV 15/07/09). 

Prague has been operating a visa-free regime with Canada since 2007, and Ottawa’s decision to backtrack created difficulties for many Czech travellers. Canada does not have a visa service in the Czech Republic, and Czechs are currently forced to apply for Canadian visas in Vienna. 

As 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 EU bloc as a whole, which has a visa-free arrangement with Canada. 

Czech Deputy Interior Minister Lenka Ptá?ková-Melicharová, who was also present at the justice ministers’ meeting, confirmed that Barrot had suggested imposing an EU visa requirement on Canadian diplomatic passport holders as a first sanction. 

“Should Canada fail to lift visa restrictions by the end of the year, the European Commission will propose certain measures. These can be the introduction of visas for Canadian diplomats travelling to countries of the European Union,” Ptá?ková-Melicharová said. 

Imposing visa obligations on holders of diplomatic passports only would be a symbolic gesture, an immigration expert told EURACTIV. A genuine tit-for-tat step would be to impose visa requirement on all Canadian citizens travelling to the EU, something which he said is “difficult to imagine” in view of close relations between Canada and Western European countries. 

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