Foreign Minister for reinstatement of visas for Canadian visitors

For some time visa policy between the Czech Republic and both Canada and the US has been an unresolved issue in trans-Atlantic relations. Since last October the Czech Foreign Minister Cyril Svoboda has been pushing for both countries to reassess their policies or face reciprocation from the Czech government. Currently, US and Canadian citizens are able to visit the Czech Republic visa free, but the same is not true for Czechs visiting North America. Just this week Mr Svoboda was in Ottawa to discuss visa policy.

Jan Velinger joins us in the studio with details.

RP: Jan, following talks between Czech and Canadian representatives does it seem like there will - eventually - be a shift on the visa issue?

"At this time it appears there haven't been any major changes. Despite the fact, that for example some sympathetic overtures from Washington - there are no specific dates for waiving the visa requirement and aren't likely to be. Likewise, it appears Ottawa has made no commitment - other than the fact that the Canadian Embassy in Prague has already said it will fully revue visa relations in 2007. That does not seem to be enough for the foreign minister. On Monday he spoke with public broadcaster Czech Television saying no real progress had been made:

Foreign Minister Cyril Svoboda,  photo: CTK
"In the US there is clear government support for dropping visa requirements. But, in Canada we should negotiate as equal partners: it is in the interests of both Czechs and Canadians to not need visas. I am an opponent of visas, but I have been forced to push the issue because there has been no progress. We have not seen any real progress even under a new Canadian government."

RP: If, as you say, the foreign minister has attempted to put pressure on Canada to reassess its visa policy - and not met with the desired response - what is likely to be the next step?

"Mr Svoboda has already said that he will now make the recommendation to the cabinet that visas for Canadian visitors be re-imposed. At the same time, he is the first to admit that on those grounds the Czech Republic could be sued at the European Court of Justice for 'violating joint visa policy'. It's risky but it is one way of forcing the European Union to deal with the topic - to ensure that the visa issue remains on the table. In that light, even European Parliament MP Jan Zahradil, of the opposition Civic Democratic Party, agrees Mr Svoboda's 'tough approach' could be useful.

Euro MP Jan Zahradil
"I can see certain 'reason' in what he was doing and perhaps his tactics might help somehow to enhance or increase certain diplomatic pressure when it comes to removal of visa duty by certain countries towards the Czech Republic. We all know that if visa duty is imposed by the Czech Republic towards Canada, it will be discussed at the highest level including the European Court of Justice. It could be a good experience or proof whether the European Union is itself able to produce a certain united visa and asylum policy."

RP: But, is it really likely that the Czech Republic will soon share non-visa relations with Canada - or the US - anytime in the near future?

"Most observers are very sceptical. Real change will depend on a number of different factors: at the very least there has to be a general drop in the number of rejected applicants and high-tech security measures in new passports have to be introduced. In short, both Canada and the US will above all require far greater assurances that Czech tourists visiting those countries plan to return home afterwards, not attempt to stay on illegally. Until the US and Canada are comfortable that those and other requirements are met, the Czech Republic will not likely be allowed to join the visa-waiver club."