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NEWS: Czech Republic blocks Canada-EU air agreement, eyes CETA too

Postmedia News reports that, “The Czech parliament is currently blocking a Canada-EU air transportation agreement, according to the Czech media.” In December 2009, the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade stated, “The Canada-EU Comprehensive Air Transport Agreement was recently signed by EU Transport Ministers and then signed by Canada’s Minister of Transport. The Agreement will now allow any number of air carriers from Canada and the EU member states to operate direct scheduled passenger and all-cargo air services to any cities between each partner’s territory as frequently as desired. Air carriers will also be able to pick up traffic in each partner’s territory and continue to a third country as part of a service to or from their home territory.”

The Czech parliament is blocking the Canada-EU air transportation agreement in retaliation over the imposition of visa requirements for Czech citizens seeking entry into Canada. Tensions have also been created because the visa restrictions mean that Vaclav Havel – past president of Czechoslovakia and member of the Order of Canada – would have to apply for special permission to enter Canada.

Additionally, the Canadian Press reported in December 2010 that, “Sources have said the Czech Republic (has also) responded by linking the visa issue to free-trade negotiations between Canada and Europe, a move that could slow progress towards a deal. Canadian trade negotiators are anxious to secure an agreement by 2011, fearing that prolonged talks could endanger their bargaining position. If talks become onerous, there is concern Europe will focus on other markets.”

The Czech Republic has 22 representatives in the European Parliament, their names and party affiliations are listed at http://www.europarl.europa.eu/members/public/geoSearch/search.do?country=CZ&language=EN. The Group of European People’s Party and the Group of the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats hold a majority of the seats in the European Parliament. The Czech Republic has 9 representatives in those two parties who may well share the concerns over the visa restrictions. The support of the European Parliament is required for the final approval of the Canada-European Union Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement currently being negotiated.

Now in damage control mode, the Harper government is sending a team to the Czech Republic on a five-day ‘information gathering visit’ starting January 31 to assess whether Canada can lift the visa restrictions and address this obstacle to the ongoing Canada-EU CETA talks.

This dispute with the Czech Republic brings to mind the controversy between Canada and the United Arab Emirates. The UAE’s two national, government-owned air carriers have been seeking permission to increase the number of flights to and from Canadian airports. Ottawa refused, citing the impact that would have on Air Canada. In retaliation, the UAE expelled hundreds of Canadian troops this fall from Camp Mirage, a semi-secret military base used to shuttle Canadian troops to Afghanistan.