The European Commission has said it has not ruled out taking legal action
against the Czech Republic for unilaterally signing a memorandum of
understanding with the United States that is a first step towards the Czech
Republic being included in the US visa waiver programme. The Commission has
expressed concern that the memorandum might include a promise to provide
sensitive personal data on people travelling to the US, which went beyond
Left-wing Communist and Social Democrat MPs have also said they are unhappy with the personal data requirements in the document and say the government should have consulted more closely with the EU on the issue.
For his part, Czech prime minister Mirek Topolánek has said that the memorandum should enable the Czech Republic to finally achieve its longstanding ambition to join the US visa waiver programme later this year and that the arrangement could serve as a model for other EU countries.
“The fulfillment of a dream for a generation of Czechs” is how Czech Prime Minister Mirek Topolánek described the signing on Tuesday of a document that paves the way for Czechs to visit the United States without a visa. However, Czech citizens will have to provide detailed information to US officials prior to travelling, and Prague’s go-it-alone approach to visa negotiations has ruffled feathers in Brussels.
Prime Minister Mirek Topolánek leaves on a three-day working visit the United States on Monday. His meetings with US President George Bush and American top officials are expected to revolve around two outstanding issues in bilateral relations – the lifting of visa restrictions for Czechs travelling to the US and Czech participation in the US missile defence programme.
Czech troops stationed in Kosovo as part of the KFOR multinational peace-keeping force, were called in on Thursday to reinforce local police units during a rally held at a border crossing between Serbia and Kosovo. It was their first call to action in newly independent Kosovo, unsettled by escalating Serbian protests.
Prime Minister Mirek Topolánek is expected to sign a visa-waiver memorandum during his visit to the United States next week. 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 of 2008. The European Union has criticized the Czech Republic for bilateral negotiations with the United States over the visa-waiver programme.
Joseph Carrano and John Moore, the two American citizens arrested in Prostějov, South Moravia, in the beginning of October for overstaying the 90-day visa-free period, are currently detained in a facility for illegal aliens and are facing deportation. They initially applied for asylum in the country to avoid it but have recently withdrawn their application. They are not seeking international protection, just the chance to stay with their family in the Czech Republic. They say they have been treated unfairly by the Czech authorities, and they don’t
The Czech Republic remains reserved towards recognizing Kosovo as an independent country. After the former Serbian province proclaimed independence on Sunday, Czech diplomats said they would wait for a common EU strategy on the issue. But a meeting of EU foreign ministers on Monday failed to reach any joint policy towards Kosovo, and the Czech Foreign Ministry has set down its own conditions for the recognition of Kosovo.
The Czech Republic’s efforts to win visa-free travel to the United States for its citizens do not contravene the country’s obligations towards the European Union, Alexandr Vondra said on Sunday. Mr Vondra said Washington regarded the EU as an association of independent states and discussed the abolition of visa requirements with them individually. The Social Democrats’ shadow foreign minister Lubomír Zaoralek has said Prague’s individual approach destroyed EU unity; he also described the Czech Republic as servile towards the US.
Prague will wait for the European Union to agree a common standpoint on Kosovo’s declaration of independence and then proceed in accord with the EU’s position, a Czech Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesperson said. However, Deputy Prime Minister for European Affairs Alexandr Vondra said it would be very difficult for the bloc to agree on a joint stance, given that some states were opposed to Sunday’s historic decision by Kosovo’s parliament; Mr Vondra said it was more likely that individual EU states would adopt their own positions, with some of its biggest members likely to recognise Kosovo’s independence in the very near future.
Czech authorities have detained two American citizens who overstayed the 90-day period for which no visas are required. The Americans arrived in Prague in October last year and failed to leave the country in time. After being detained by the Czech Foreigners Police in the town of Prostějov, South Moravia, with pending deportation charges, they applied for asylum in the Czech Republic.
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