Canadian experts to research national minority protections in the Czech Republic
A group of Canadian experts will visit the Czech Republic in November in order to research whether the Czechs sufficiently protect their national minorities. The visit could be an important step in the process to eventually lift the visa requirement Canada renewed last year for Czech citizens. Czech Interior Minister Radek John announced the visit to journalists on Thursday after a meeting of EU Member State Interior Ministers in Luxembourg.
Canada introduced visas for citizens of the Czech Republic last July in an effort to limit the number of members of the Roma minority from the country seeking asylum there. Prague has sharply criticized Canada’s position for some time. Ottawa has indicated it will not change its position until new asylum legislation has been approved. The Czech Press Agency has been informed that Canada has told the Czechs that such legislation will probably not be in place before the end of next year.
John, of course, believes Canada could start lifting the visas earlier. "The Commissioner [Cecilia Malmström] is informed that Canadian experts will come to our country this November. They [the Canadians] will gather more background material in addition to the hundreds of pages they have already received, and we hope we might be able to close this matter with the experts during November," he said.
However, even if the Canadian mission ends successfully, that does not necessarily mean the Czechs can expect visas to be lifted before the end of the year (John’s claims to be “happy” notwithstanding). The Czech Press Agency has been informed that the Canadians will not complete their final report from the trip and submit it to the government until April of next year.
The Czech Republic has the support of other EU Member States and the European Commission as far as the Canadian visas are concerned, but John says the Commission has not done enough so far to tackle the situation. "We are requesting that the Commissioner [Malmström] not play referee. She is supposed to stand behind the Czech Republic. Since we are in the European Union, we unfortunately do not have the option of reciprocally introducing visas, and we expect action from the EU,” he said.
This month the European Commission should be publishing its annual report summarizing the visa situation within the EU. It cannot be ruled out that the Commission might propose some measures against Canada if that country does not lift the visas for the Czech Republic. In the past, for example, the Commission threatened to introduce visas for Canadian diplomats unless the situation with visas for the Czechs changed. After that threat, Canada made it possible for Czechs to request visas in Prague without having to travel to Vienna. The Commission then backed away from introducing visas for diplomats for the time being.
If the EU does not back the Czech Republic on this issue in the future, John says the other Member States could end up paying a price. "I am very happy that Slovakia supported us and told the other Member States that even though this isn’t happening to them and is happening only to the Czech Republic, if they don’t help, if they don’t show solidarity, they could be next,” the minister said.
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