Foreign Minister pushing for tougher controls for visitors from Canada, Australia, U.S.
Back in November Czech Foreign Minister Cyril Svoboda first suggested that the Czech Republic would invoke the EU's solidarity pact to pressure states like Canada to drop visa restrictions for the Czech Republic as an EU member. Now, the European Commission is reportedly weighing negotiations with individual states to eventually drop visa restrictions. But, Minister Svoboda has decided not to wait: on the domestic front at the weekend he again turned up the pressure, indicating that if the situation doesn't change, the Czech Republic would take additional steps.
For some time now the Czech Republic has been pushing for three countries - Australia, Canada, and the United States to drop visa restrictions for Czechs. As it stands, Czechs wishing to visit any of those countries must apply for tourist visas, but relations are not reciprocal: citizens from the three countries do not need tourist visas to visit here for up to 90 days, although they do need sufficient funds and health insurance. The foreign minister, speaking on a Czech TV debate programme at the weekend, repeated he would continue applying pressure at the highest levels until he saw results:
"We invoked the solidarity pact and as a result the European Commission now has greater room to manoeuvre in negotiations with each of those countries, and I intend to continue applying pressure in this direction... As it stands, the European Commission is set to issue a stance on the subject in July. Unless there is a significant step forward, then we will pursue the matter all the way to the European Court."
And so far, with some, Mr Svoboda's words have struck a chord: Prime Minister Jiri Paroubek himself backed the foreign minister - but he added that Mr Svoboda should have raised the issue as far back as a year ago. And, at the weekend, Mr Svoboda was also supported by Communist Euro MP Miloslav Ransdorf on the same TV debate show, with Mr Ransdorf indicating that the eventual outcome on the issue would "test the Czechs' EU membership's worth".
"Minister Bublan is convinced that the Czech Republic should have the same stance on all foreign visitors - not that there should be specific measures against citizens of particular countries. Mr Bublan is of course prepared to meet with Mr Svoboda to express his position."
Others say that countries like the U.S. are hardly those against which the Czech Republic should take such a tough line. Political analyst Bohumil Dolezal:
"Compared to some of Mr Svoboda's other steps, I see this as a negative move. It's hard to blame the U.S. or Canada for being careful when it comes to immigration or security issues. Imagine the Czech Republic lifting restrictions to some countries to the East that fail to fulfil all necessary requirements. Also, from a position of force, it's hard to imagine the Czech Republic 'taking on' Australia, the U.S., and Canada at once. The third thing I sense is that it's a bit of a pre-election move. A warning for Mr Svoboda should be Communist Euro MP Miloslav Ransdorf's enthusiastic support."
It is currently estimated that some 40,000 foreigners from English-speaking countries live and work in the Czech Republic - presumably not on tourist visas. But, just in case anyone of them is, they can perhaps expect stricter controls in the future. The foreign minister has indicated that passports should at least be stamped to indicate time of arrival and departure, to make it tougher on anyone planning to stay here illegally, that is, for more than three months.