European Parliament wants more pressure on Canada over visas for Czech citizens
The European Parliament has adopted a declaration criticizing Canada's 2009 renewal of visas for citizens of the Czech Republic and is calling on the European Union to put more pressure on Ottawa. The resolution emphasizes that if the situation is not resolved soon, the EU may initiate retaliatory measures. Some Czech MEPs, however, have refused to sign it.
Canada unilaterally renewed the visa obligation for Czech citizens in the summer of 2009. The decision was related to a rise in Czech asylum seekers in the North American country, most of them Roma people. Prague has repeatedly criticized this step and wants its EU partners to express solidarity for the Czech Republic. While Brussels has called on Canada to return to visa-free relations with the Czech Republic, it has not proposed any counter-measures for the time being, nor is it likely to.
"The European Parliament...emphasizes that if the question of the breach of the mutual mechanism with respect to visas is not resolved soon, the corresponding retaliatory measures can be expected from the EU side," the declaration reads. It was adopted after being signed by more than half of the EP. Polish MEP Jerzy Buzek (Platforma Obywatelska), the current EP President, also expressed full solidarity with the Czechs on the Twitter social networking site.
"The European Parliament...calls on the Commissioner to establish a new mechanism in place of bilateral negotiations which will guarantee for all Member States a full-fledged mechanism of mutual relations with respect to visas and which will also ensure that all Member States immediately renew visa obligations for the citizens of countries outside the EU who breach that mechanism," the declaration reads. Czech MEPs Zuzana Roithová (Christian Democrats - KDU-ČSL) and Miroslav Ouzký (Civic Democrats - ODS) authored the text.
"This is a significant success for the Czech Republic," Roithová said today. In her view, the declaration could serve as a trump card or argument for Czech diplomats negotiating the visa issue with Canada and the EU. She also sharply criticized EU Commissioner Cecilia Malmström, who is in charge of visas at the Commission, for not proposing counter-measures for the time being. "She's just a fly in the ointment. She is not paying any attention to this," Roithová said, adding that according to her information, Hungary faces a similar problem with Canada reintroducing visas. Allegedly the only reason the visas are not being reintroduced at present is that Hungary currently holds the rotating EU Presidency.
One Czech MEP who did not sign the declaration is former union head Richard Falbr (Social Democrats - ČSSD), who said he refused to add his signature on principle. "I don't know why we should be demanding solidarity when we ourselves have not shown solidarity toward the EU in the past," Falbr said, referring to the Czech Republic's approach toward the struggle to have the US lift its visas, which involved Prague concluding a bilateral Memorandum of Understanding with the Americans. The moved prompted a wave of criticism in Brussels because the European Commission wanted the Member States to take a unified approach. Czech politicians disputed that approach, saying it would not change anything. In the end the Czech Republic and several other states were classified by the US as visa-free.
Moreover, Falbr and other MEPs who have not signed the declaration, such as Czech MEP Libor Rouček (ČSSD), are bothered by what they see as merely an initiative by Roithová to improve her own image. "It's not the most appropriate format... It's counterproductive," Rouček said. In his view the declaration criticizes the work of the Commission and the Council of the EU (which represents the EU Member States) when it should primarily be up to the Czech Republic to earn their support. "The current Czech Interior Minister is not capable of doing that," Rouček said, adding that it is unrealistic to expect the EU to adopt retaliatory measures against Canada. Czech MEP Jiří Havel (ČSSD) also did not sign the declaration, but he has been ill recently.
Roithová said the declaration will "publicize" the entire problem in the EU at a time when Canada and the EU are negotiating an important trade agreement which will set the framework for future cooperation. Those talks should finish by the end of this year. Both the European Parliament and the Member States will then discuss ratifying the agreement. Roithová believes the possible failure of those negotiations could be a weak spot for Canada and says the Czechs have already refused to ratify an agreement on civilian air travel because of the visa issue. The trade agreement would be something much more significant.
"I very much regret the stance taken by the Social Democrats, including some of our Czech colleagues who are not joining the declaration for various reasons," Roithová said previously when she had not yet succeeded in securing the simple majority of votes needed to approve the resolution. Today she commented that their arguments against it were insignificant.
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