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NEWS: Czech Republic threatens to block ratification of CETA

Dr. Roithová Zuzana. Photo credit: Václav Pancer, MF DNES

Dr. Roithová Zuzana. Photo credit: Václav Pancer, MF DNES

The Prague Post reports, “Czech officials are sticking to threats to block ratification (of the Canada-European Union free trade agreement) if a controversial Canadian visa requirement is not lifted. …’We hope we won’t need any visa at the time when the ratification procedure starts,’ Deputy Minister of Industry and Trade Martin Tlapa, who has taken part in the negotiations, told The Prague Post. ‘Otherwise, we will have a serious problem’. …’If the (visa) issue is not resolved by the time the negotiations are concluded, it cannot be granted that the Czech Parliament will not postpone its ratification,’ a spokesman for the Foreign Affairs Ministry told The Prague Post, citing the precedence of holding up the 2009 EU-Canada Air Transport Agreement.”

“It was during the Czech EU presidency of 2009 that CETA negotiations were initiated. But that same year, Canada reinstituted a visa requirement for Czech citizens citing a spike in asylum requests that Canadian officials attributed to members of the Roma minority seeking refugee status. The news site Aktuálně.cz recently reported that Canada planned to lift the visa requirement by June 2012, which Canadian Ambassador to the Czech Republic Valerie Raymond denied when contacted by The Prague Post. Raymond also said the visa issue was not part of the CETA negotiations, although Czech officials seem to say it is.”

As we have previously noted in campaign blogs: In 2009, the Harper government imposed new visa requirements for Czech citizens entering Canada. In December 2010, the Czech Republic responded by linking the visa issue to the Canada-European Union Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement. To address this threat, in late-January 2011 the Harper government sent a delegation to the Czech Republic to assess whether it could lift the visa restrictions without permitting a new wave of Roma refugee claimants. But by that same month the Czech parliament was blocking a Canada-EU air transportation agreement over the visa row. By mid-February, a report by the House of Commons parliamentary committee on trade, based on a fact-finding mission to Europe several months earlier, noted they were hearing concerns being expressed by EU parliamentarians over the visa rules. They were right, by early-March, the European Parliament had adopted a declaration criticizing the Harper government’s visa restrictions on those from the Czech Republic entering Canada and said if the situation was not resolved soon the EU would initiate retaliatory measures.

This past June, trade campaigner Stuart Trew wrote, “Dr. Roithová Zuzana of the conservative European People’s Party said she would not be able to support CETA, her red line was Canada’s visa requirements on Czech travellers.” In March, the Czech Press Agency had reported, “Roithová (Christian Democrats – KDU-ČSL) said the (European Parliament) declaration (against the visa restrictions and threatening retaliatory measures) will ‘publicize’ the entire problem in the EU at a time when Canada and the EU are negotiating an important trade agreement which will set the framework for future cooperation. …Both the European Parliament and the Member States will (need to) discuss ratifying the (trade) agreement. Roithová believes the possible failure of those negotiations could be a weak spot for Canada and says the Czechs have already refused to ratify an agreement on civilian air travel because of the visa issue. The trade agreement would be something much more significant.”

Today’s Prague Post article also notes, “The Council of Canadians, which opposes the deal, has told members of the EU Parliament the agreement will force Europe to accept oil imports from Canada’s Alberta oil sands, which the EU has thus far been hesitant to import, alleging the manufacture of such fuel generates a greater carbon footprint than other energy sources.”

Campaign blogs on this issue – dating back to July 2009 – can be read at http://canadians.org/blog/?s=czech+%2B+visa.