Czech Business Weekly
July 31, 2006
Prague, Czech Republic

The European Commission has postponed until September the release and discussion of a report containing proposals for reciprocal measures toward the United States, Canada and other countries that demand visas from the new EU member countries.

A report on the issue had been due to be released July 24. Franco Frattini, the EU’s justice and home affairs commissioner, and Benita Ferrero-Waldner, the external relations commissioner, cautioned the U.S. administration in June that if there were no progress on visa waivers for new member states and Greece, the EU would consider requiring entry visas for all U.S. citizens.Riccardo Mosca, Frattini’s press secretary, said the delay was because of new information. “We want to issue a complete and coherent report, so we need more time to review and analyze this new information,” said Mosca, according to business news agency Dow Jones.

The Commission received late information from Australia, Canada and Brunei, countries that the visa problem also concerns, the Czech News Agency (?TK) reported, citing a Czech diplomatic source that declined to be identified.

Czech diplomats don’t perceive the delay positively, the source said, and he didn’t rule out that Prague would take unilateral steps in the future that would differ from the joint EU visa policy. However, the Czech Republic will wait for the Commission’s report. It believes that the Commission will submit substantial proposals, the source said. Czech diplomats will then react to the report and will consider what unilateral steps should be taken, if need be.

If the country takes unilateral steps, it would probably result in sanctions from the Commission. “We must expect to be punished for the violation of the common visa policy,” said Czech Foreign Minister Cyril Svoboda in April, adding that separate Czech action was the only path to force the EU to seriously deal with the visa problems. He made his remarks when he spoke about the possibility of a unilateral introduction of visas for Canada.

The U.S. demands visas from citizens of the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Poland, Hungary, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, Malta and Cyprus. Of the EU old countries, only citizens of Greece must have visas to travel to the U.S.

Czech President V?clav Klaus most recently commented on the U.S. visa policies July 10. He conceded that the U.S. definitely has the right to set its own visa regime, but added that it’s odd that the regime should be influenced by the number of soldiers that a country deployed in Iraq.

Klaus was reacting to the U.S. Senate passing an amendment to the immigration law May 17, according to which conditions for visa-free relations for a test two-year period include a country being in the EU, supporting the U.S. in the war in Iraq and Afghanistan by deploying a unit of at least 300 members, and posing no security risk for the U.S. The amendment still faces the U.S. House of Representatives and needs the signature of U.S. President George W. Bush.

The only country that would meet the new criteria is Poland, while the Czech Republic and Slovakia haven’t deployed enough troops in the missions. Slovakia’s new government has been discussing withdrawing its troops from Iraq altogether.

In May, the Czech Ministry of Foreign Affairs said it welcomed the visa issues having been opened for discussion in the U.S. Congress at all. At that time, Svoboda said he believed that a more general criteria for visa lifting would be developed so that more states could meet them, and not only one EU country.

Some members of diplomatic circles pointed out that the U.S. mentioned only some missions. If other NATO missions were also included, the Czech Republic would meet the conditions.

Czech politicians have been striving for the lifting of U.S. and Canadian visas for Czechs in vain since the 1990s. The Czech Republic doesn’t require visas from U.S. and Canadian citizens.