Visa Waiver: published the fifth report of the Commission

The European Commission has adopted its Fifth Report from the Commission to the European Council on certain third countries’ maintenance of visa requirements in breach of the principle of reciprocity and ad-hoc Report from the Commission to the Council on the re-introduction of the visa requirement by Canada for citizens of the Czech Republic.

The reports show how – with the exemption of the Canadian case – further progresses have been made concerning the visa waiver reciprocity mechanism. With respect to three countries full reciprocity is now in place: Japan, Panama and Singapore and to a certain extent Australia as well. By contrast, there still are five Member States excluded from the Visa Waiver Program with the United States. Finally, no progress has been registered with Brasil, Brunei Darussalam and Canada.

Concerning this last case, not only Canada keeps the visa regime with Bulgaria and Romania but it has also reintroduced it with the Czech Republic, last July. Following a wave of asylum requests coming from approximately a hundred people of Roma origins claiming to be discriminated by the majority of the population of Czech origins, Canada decided to reintroduce visa requirements for Czech citizens. however, Ottawa has clarifies that this measure has nothing o do with minorities’ situation, especially those coming from the Czech Republic.

Canada lifted the visa restriction towards the Czech Republic the 31 October 2007 (COM/2008/0486 final) and since then Ottawa has registered steep increase on asylum requests. Given that after this lift the Canadian consulate in Prague was closed, Czech citizens must apply for a visa to Vienna. Furthermore, the decision to reintroduce a visa regime creates problems within the EU as well. Indeed, the Hague Programme, adopted by the European Council on 4 and 5 November 2004 recognises reciprocity of visa exemption with third countries as a fundamental element of the common visa policy of the European Union.

The Council tackled the issue in several occasions: the General Affairs and External relations Council of 27 July 2009 and that of 14 September 2009, Justice and Home Affairs Council of 21 September 2009 and the Committee of Permanent Representatives (Coreper) of 23 July 2009.

During these meetings, the European Union has repeatedly threatened Canada to introduce possible sanctions if no progresses will be made by the end of the year.  Although the European Commission does not want to implement reciprocal measures, the Commissioner Jacques Barrot, stated that possible measures may entail the reintroduction of visa requirements for holders of diplomatic passports within by the end of the year (COM(2009) 562 final).

Although purely symbolic, this measure has raised concerns within the EU. The Minister for Immigration Tobias Billström, has called for cautious answers to avoid a worsening of the situation.

As Member of the European Union, the Czech Republic cannot introduce visa requirements to Canadian citizens unilaterally and reciprocally, because it has to respect the European policies, which has a system of visa waiver with Canada. This is the first time that a third country has re-imposed a visa requirement for citizens of a Member State and the conservative group PPE has released a declaration where it calls all 27 Member States to put pressure to Canada to modify the current situation.

Leda Bargiotti

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