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Commission: The EU will not automatically introduce visas for Canada

Brussels/Strasbourg, 14.7.2009 18:26, (ROMEA)

Speaking at a press conference today, European Commission spokesperson Michele Cercone ruled out the possibility of the EU automatically introducing visas for Canada in response to the Canadian introduction of visas for Czech citizens. Cercone said the Commission would of course evaluate the Czech Republic’s request appealing to the so-called “solidarity clause” which could make it possible for EU Member States to introduce reciprocal visas. According to Cercone, the Commission regrets Canada’s decision to impose visa obligations for Czech citizens and hopes the obligations are temporary.

"The European Commission naturally regrets that Canada has once again introduced visas for Czech citizens,” said Cercone, who also said the Czech Republic must now officially announce this fact to the Commission and the Council of the EU. "The Commission will then join the Czech authorities in negotiating with Canada. However, visas will not be automatically introduced for Canada at this stage.”

According to ČTK sources, Prague has already sent the relevant announcement to the Commission. The Commission must respond within three months at the latest.

The Czechs are appealing to an EU regulation from 2001 which was amended in 2005 and regulates negotiations with third countries that introduce visas against EU Member States. The so-called “solidarity clause” states that a Member State must first officially inform the EU of the situation. The Commission then has 90 days to file a report to the Council of the EU, to which "may be annexed a proposal establishing the temporary renewal of visa obligations for citizens of the third country concerned”. Member State ministers must then decide on whether to adopt the proposed introduction of visas within three months. In practice this means the clause is not automatically implemented; the case must be reviewed by EU institutions, and the entire process could take as long as half a year.

The amended regulation of 2005 differs from the original wording, in which the EU used much sharper language. The 2001 regulation said the other Member States were obliged to introduce temporary visas for the third country concerned as a reciprocal measure.

A Commission source has confirmed to ČTK that the clause is not implemented automatically, adding that the Commission wants to play the role of mediator in the dispute and believes similar conflicts can be resolved for the most part without taking reciprocal measures. Cercone says Czech experts will meet with Commission representatives today to discuss the visa question.

The problem with Canadian visas was also addressed at today’s session of the European Parliament in Strasbourg. The strongest parliamentary faction, the EPP, called on all 27 Member States to pressure Canada to change its decision. "In addition to the fact that the introduction of visas is discriminatory, it will also lead to enormous practical and economic complications for Czech citizens who travel to Canada to work or for business,” said EPP head Joseph Daul and Czech MEP Zuzana Roithová (KDU-ČSL) in a joint statement.

Canada introduced the visa obligation today, citing the rising number of asylum-seekers from the Czech Republic as the reason. The Czech Republic announced today that it will introduce visa obligations for holders of Canadian diplomatic and special passports as soon as possible.

The government is also considering other steps and possible scenarios. "On visa questions decisions are theoretically made [in the EU] by a qualified majority, but in practice everyone always strives for consensus. The decision of the other Member States cannot be predicted. My experience of the time we were fighting for visa-free travel to the USA was that the negotiations were very difficult,” Czech Ambassador to the EU Milena Vicenová said in an interview for the web server Týden.cz.

A source from the Permanent Representation of the Czech Republic in Brussels told ČTK the solidarity principle applies in the EU at two levels. The first level is that of proposing to the other Member States that they take reciprocal measures, and the second level is that of lobbying Canada on behalf of the Czech Republic. Czech PM Jan Fischer and Czech Foreign Minister Jan Kohout both say the aim of Czech diplomacy now is to have full visa-free relations revived between the two countries.

Canada introduced visas for the Czech Republic as of today at 06:00 Central European Summer Time; during the next 48 hours, Czech citizens may request visas after arriving in Canada, but after that they will only be able to request them at the Canadian Embassy in Vienna prior to their travel to Canada. The Czech government has warned that tens of thousands of people will be affected and that Prague will be demanding the possibility for Canadian visas to be issued in the Czech Republic.

ČTK, Gwendolyn Albert, ROMEA, ROMEA, ČTK, translated by Gwendolyn Albert
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