Czech Republic faces uphill battle to win EU-wide retort to Canadian visas

The Czech Republic has pinned its hopes on the European Union for a forceful retort to Canada’s imposition of visas on Czech citizens. Prague has already officially lodged its demand that Brussels hits back with across the board visa requirements on Canadians. But the success of that demand looks far from certain.

As the Czech government smouldered with anger at Canada’s reintroduction of visas to stem a surge of, mostly Roma, asylum applications, Brussels offered sympathy but not much more.

The Czech demand for a tit-for-tat retort with the EU imposing visas across the board on all Canadians will certainly not be a swift revenge and could very well not materialise at all.

The box at the Canadian embassy in Prague for collecting visa aplications to be sent to Canadian embassy in Vienna,  Austria,  photo: CTK
Rory Watson is a veteran Brussels-based EU journalist. He thinks Prague’s demand for solidarity from the EU’s other 26 member states looks doomed from the outset.

“Well, I think there will be considerable sympathy for the Czech concerns but I think that other countries will probably feel this is more a bilateral issue between the Czech Republic and Canada. And I think it will be very difficult to get a majority, or even all of the 27, to take measures against a country basically with which the EU has good relations and which the UK has traditional links”

Mr Watson says he cannot think of any precedents where EU countries have united to slap on visa requirements on another country because of local difficulties with one member. In the short-term, he sees the European Commission trying to play an honest broker in the soured relations between the Czech Republic and Canada and attempting to defuse the current situation.

Time-wise at least, revenge will be a dish that will have to be savoured cold, if at all, by the Czech Republic. The EU’s creaky procedures mean that officials at the European Commission will have up to three months to weigh up Prague’s request but have promised to report back in September. Then member states will have another three months to ponder their stance.

There is also another complication highlighted by the Czech press on Wednesday. The European-wide passport-free Schengen zone covers most EU countries as well as Norway, Switzerland and Iceland. These latter countries would also have to be brought on board for any meaningful reply against Canada.

With that sort of mathematics, united European action looks even more doubtful. So Prague is likely to be faced with a decision in around six months time whether to impose visas on Canadians on its own.