In January 2009, the Czech Republic will for the first time assume the EU presidency. But the current Czech coalition government may have a problem – its policies have often seemed hostile to European consensus politics. With bilateral negotiations between the government and the US on a proposed radar base as well as a visa waiver programme, many have the impression that the current government, like its Polish counterpart, is hostile to the EU.
The Lane Motor Museum in the US city of Nashville made the news here in the Czech Republic recently when it commissioned a copy of a 1940s Tatra aero sledge or aero luge, a remarkable car on skis. It is just the latest addition to what the museum’s operators say is the largest collection of Czechoslovak cars outside Europe. I discussed its vintage vehicles with owner and auto enthusiast Jeff Lane on the phone from Nashville.
Two American citizens who were detained by the foreigners’ police in the town of Prostějov three weeks ago have been deported from the Czech Republic. The two men had overstayed the 90-day period for which no visas are required. They originally asked for asylum in the Czech Republic hoping to be allowed to stay but withdrew the request when they were told their chances of obtaining asylum were practically non-existent. The Czech Republic’s entry to the Schengen border-free zone has made life difficult for US citizens living here illegally. While in the past they merely had to cross the country’s borders once every three months in order to get a fresh stamp in their passport now they would have to travel outside of the Schengen area in order to start a new 90-day period in the country.
Mr Topolánek also spoke about his visit to Washington last week, denying that there was any link between a US pledge to add the Czech Republic to its Visa Waiver Programme and American plans to build a radar base in central Bohemia. The prime minister said Czech politicians had been trying to win visa-free travel to the US since 1989 and it was not the work of one government. Mr Topolánek has previously said the Czech Parliament will vote on the radar base around the time of a NATO summit in Bucharest in April. Opinion polls have suggested most Czechs are opposed to the building of such a facility.
EU officials have criticized the Czech-U.S. memorandum of understanding that paves the way for the inclusion of the Czech Republic in the U.S. visa-waiver programme. Citing European Commission sources, the Brussels-based daily Europolitics reported on Thursday that the bilateral Czech-American deal might “scupper” the current agreement between the United States and the old EU member states on data transfers concerning passengers travelling to the U.S. by air. Slovenian Interior Minister Dragutin Mate, whose country currently presides over the European Union, said that most EU countries want to negotiate visa agreements with the United States under a common strategy. Czech Interior Minister Ivan Langer rejected the criticism saying that the Czech-U.S. memorandum is in line with EU legislation. Mr Langer also pointed out that the Czech Republic had been waiting for four years for the EU to take action leading to the abolishing of U.S. visas for the new EU countries, and only then did the Czechs start negotiating with the Bush administration.
A replica of the Czech made Tatra aero sledge, which was produced for the Germans during the Second World War, has recently been made for a collector in the United States. The little car with skis instead of wheels and a large propeller at the back was intended to serve the German Army in Russia. On Tuesday the replica was successfully tested on the snow of Jeseníky Mountains.
The Czech interior minister, Ivan Langer, has signed a memorandum of
understanding with the United States which is the first step towards the
Czech Republic being included in the US visa-waiver programme. Though not
legally binding, the memorandum paves the way for a full deal between the
two countries. US Secretary of Homeland Security Michael Chertoff, who
co-signed the document in Washington, said if all went well Czechs would
able to travel to the States without a visa from the end of October or the
beginning of November this year. However, to do so they will have to
provide US authorities with personal data via the internet before being
allowed to enter the country. The information in question is in line with
an agreement reached between the US and the EU last year, the website
Czech Prime Minister Mirek Topolánek, who also took part in the signing ceremony, said it was an historical moment; he said the agreement represented the fulfilment of a dream for generations of Czechs.
The Czech government has approved a draft memorandum on lifting the visa
requirement for Czechs travelling to the United States. Prime Minister
Mirek Topolánek is expected to sign the document during his visit to the
United States, which starts on Monday evening. The memorandum between the
Czech government and the US Department of Homeland Security is likely to
result in the abolition of tourist visas for Czech citizens before the end
The daily Hospodářské Noviny reported on Monday that the Czech Republic will have to hand detailed data on its passengers to the US authorities in exchange for inclusion in the US visa-waiver programme. Czech Interior Minister Ivan Langer has denied the allegations, but declined to disclose the details of the text.
Two US citizens, Joseph Carrano and John Moore, who were detained in the Czech Republic in early February for overstaying the 90-day visa-free period and were facing deportation, have withdrawn an appeal and will voluntarily return to the United States. A spokesperson for the Foreigners Police revealed the news on Friday, saying the US nationals would return next week. The two US-born brothers, who were adopted in the US and whose parents live in Prostějov, south Moravia, arrived in the Czech Republic last October to reunite with their family. One of the brothers is banned from returning to the Czech Republic for one year, the other six months.
Police in South Bohemia are investigating a case of alleged attempted fraud amounting to USD 3.5 billion. A married couple from Písek allegedly sought a guarantee from a Swiss bank on the basis of a certificate “issued” by a non-existent financial institute in the US. However, the bank suspected the documents were fake and halted the whole process before any contract was signed. The couple, who have not been remanded in custody, said they needed the loan to finance the establishment of an airline.
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