EU presidency backs tit-for-tat reaction to Canada visa row

16th July 2009, Comments 0 comments

Canada imposed visas on Czechs to counter what it said was a steady influx of Roma asylum applicants from the Czech Republic.

Stockholm -The European Union presidency said Wednesday it favours visa requirements for Canadians travelling to EU member states after Canada ordered Czech nationals to get visas.

"As the presidency of the EU, we are in favour of this reciprocity," Swedish Migration and Asylum Policy Minister Tobias Billstroem told AFP.

"But it's up to the (EU) commission to handle the proposal, because the commission is responsible for the reciprocity mechanism," he added.

Canada imposed visas on Czechs to counter what it said was a steady influx of Roma asylum applicants from the Czech Republic.

The Czech government reacted to Canada's decision on Tuesday by introducing visas for Canadian diplomats and recalling its ambassador in Canada for consultations. But it cannot impose visas on all Canadians under EU laws.

Czech authorities were also annoyed at the slow reaction of the European Commission to demands to take reciprocal measures.

Czech President Vaclav Klaus, who opposes closer EU integration, on Wednesday chided the EU. "As you well know, Canada can decide and the Czech Republic cannot. It's Brussels that has to decide for us," he added.

At the European parliament in Strasbourg, European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso expressed regret about Canada's decision to re-introduce visas for Czech nationals.

The Canadian move, which also affected Mexico, is a bid to crack down on an explosion in the number of fraudulent refugee claims.

"We'll do all necessary efforts to restore the visa free travel," he told lawmakers.

He said Czech, Canadian and Commission officials had met Tuesday in Brussels to discuss the matter and that a report on visas would be released in September.

A solidarity clause within the EU allows all member states to impose visas on Canadian citizens who want to travel to Europe. But the procedure is lengthy, not automatic.

Canada's visa requirement for the Czech Republic was lifted in October 2007. Since then, nearly 3,000 refugee claims have been filed by Czech nationals, compared to less than five in 2006.

The Canadian government said the dramatic increase suggested that many cases were bogus, as many claims were either abandoned or withdrawn before a final decision was made.

"In addition to creating significant delays and spiralling new costs in our refugee programme, the sheer volume of these claims is undermining our ability to help people fleeing real persecution," Immigration Minister Jason Kenney said this week.

Billstroem and Swedish Justice Minister Beatrice Ask will on Thursday and Friday host an informal meeting of EU justice and home affairs ministers in Stockholm.

AFP/Expatica

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