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Some Progress on Canadian Visas Is Not Enough

A comment by the Permanent Representative of the Czech Republic to the EU, Ambassador Milena Vicenová, published in Hospodářské noviny on Friday, 24 September 2010.

What comes to your mind when we say Canada? Ice hockey? Maple syrup? A new home for thousands of Czechs after 1948 and 1968? The Olympics in Vancouver? Or rather visas to Canada?

On the second-last day of our presidency of the Council of the European Union, we met with our colleague Ross Hornby – Canadian ambassador to the EU – at a small party in Brussels. My colleague Alice Soukupová and I enjoyed a moment of glory. The Canadians patted us on the back – the Czech Republic had significantly contributed to the fact that the framework to reach a new free trade agreement between the EU and Canada had been completed. We all know what followed two weeks after that. On 13 July 2009, at 6:10 a.m., Canada once again introduced visa requirements for Czechs. It was not for the first time, as it had undertaken a similar step in October 1997. However, this time the situation was different. This was the first time that an EU member state was affected in this way.

Canada clearly underestimated the importance of such an action. It is actually a matter between Canada and the EU, and not Canada and the Czech Republic. We are bound by the legal framework of the EU, and the only possible countermeasure is to impose visa requirements for Canadian diplomats. Otherwise, we must rely on the solidarity of the other EU member states.

We explain, we argue, we negotiate… For fourteen months, we have been "fighting on all fronts" – in Prague in the Czernin Palace, in the Ministry of Interior at Letná, at the embassies in North America and EU member states, in Brussels, Luxembourg, in the building of the Council of the European Union, in the European Parliament, in the Commission… We have succeeded in obtaining support not only from countries that are still trying to be on the visa-waiver programme with Canada, in particular Bulgaria and Romania, but also from our traditional allies from the period when we fought for visa-free travel to the US, and also from Spain, France, Italy and others. Herman Van Rompuy, the President of the European Council, is on our side. “You have my support,” he wrote in April 2009 in response to a letter from Zuzana Roithová, Member of the European Parliament. He also confirmed this to Prime Minister Petr Nečas in Brussels last week.

Yesterday (Monday, 20 September), the Czech-Canadian expert group convened once again. The European Commission agreed that some progress was made after the session. As requested, the Czech Republic prepared a detailed report on the situation of the Roma population, including an evaluation of signs of extremism in the Czech Republic. The Canadian side introduced its new asylum system upon passing of the new Asylum Act in July this year. By the end of 2010, the law in its entirety will be ready to be passed, including amended legislation.

This is good because a too liberal asylum act is generally considered to be the main cause for the flow of asylum seekers. Canada, in accordance with the new legislation, is also preparing measures comparable to the concept of so-called safe countries of origin. Through its own individual system, it will evaluate which countries guarantee fundamental democratic principles and functioning legal protection to their citizens.

But is it appropriate to evaluate some European Union member states separately? Is there reason to doubt the fact that the European Union as a whole guarantees its citizens fundamental democratic principles and government of laws?

We do not expect a report about some progress. We expect clear action and a date on which the visa requirements will be revoked. It is really high time for the Commission to clearly show that it has the will to stand by one of the member countries. The nearest opportunity will be on 7 October 2010 at the Justice and Home Affairs Council meeting in Luxembourg.

Milena Vicenová, Czech Ambassador to the EU

 

Hospodářské noviny (Czech business daily), 24 September 2010, p. 10 (in Czech)

Foto: Thierry Monasse