According to the EU justice commissioner, the European Union may require that Canadian diplomats apply for visa if Canada does not reestablish its visa-free travel policy for Czech visitors by the end of 2009. Jacques Barrot said he explained to EU interior ministers in a recent meeting in Brussels that this was but one a several potential actions that the executive branch would consider if the issue could not be properly resolved.
In a news conference, Barrot stated that the European Union had ever intention of resolving the matter with Canada, but did add something telling. He said, “We cannot stand idly by.” Barrot underscored this point by saying it wasn’t appropriate to require visa for the Czech Republic since it is a member of the EU when the other countries are under no such restrictions.
However, if the measure is meant to go forward, a formal endorsement of the 27 EU countries is necessary. Barrot expressed some skepticism about whether all member states would official back the retaliatory action.
The proposal has garnered broad support during a recent closed-door session. It was characterized as a sign of solidarity for their fellow EU member. Yet, speaking for the Swedish EU Presidency, Migration and Asylum Minister Tobias Billstrom stated that it was still crucial to “strike the right balance.”
Billstrom also added during the news conference that the EU’s whole point was to establish full visa reciprocity rather than to instigate any sort of “visa war.” He said, “That would be very unfortunate for all stakeholders.”
For Barrot, Canada’s first important step should be to establish a visa office in Prague so Czech would have a more convenient location to apply for Canadian visas. At present, Czech seeking such credentials must make a trip to Vienna.
The reason that the government in Ottawa instituted this new requirement for Czechs to have visitor visas back in July was to deal appropriately with the influx of Roma minorities who had fled the Czech Republic in order to gain asylum in Canada. The Romas had made the claim that they were being discriminated against by the ethnic Czechs, a claim backed by several human right advocacy groups.
The Canadian government chose to respond with the visa policy changes since it deemed many of the claims were unsubstantiated or outright false.
The Czech Republic on its own is not allowed to impose visas on Canadians since it must uphold the policy of the European Union, which has a non-visa arrangement with Canada.