The Swedish EU presidency said on Wednesday it was in favour of visa
requirements for Canadians travelling to EU member states after Canada
imposed visa requirements on Czech nationals. Swedish Migration and Asylum
Policy Minister Tobias Billstroem told the AFP news agency his country was
in favour of respecting the EU solidarity principle but said it was up to
the European Commission to handle the proposal, since the commission was
responsible for the reciprocity mechanism.
Canada imposed visas on Czech nationals on Tuesday citing the need to stave off what it said was a steady influx of Roma asylum applicants from the Czech Republic. Czech officials reacted to the news with anger, calling the move “unfriendly and unaccommodating”. The Czech government has urged the EU to take joint steps against Canada within the solidarity principle, but the EU on Tuesday ruled out immediate action. Acting within its rights, the Czech government has recalled the country’s ambassador to Canada for consultations and announced plans to impose visa requirements on Canadian diplomats and civil servants.
Czech President Václav Klaus on Wednesday criticized the EU for curbing the Czech Republic’s option of retaliation after Canada imposed visas on Czech nationals. He said the difference between the Czech Republic and Canada in this dispute was that Ottawa was free to make its own decisions while Prague’s hands were tied. It is Brussels that will decide for us, the president said. Mr. Klaus is a fierce opponent of the Lisbon treaty which he has so far refused to sign, saying it threatens Czech sovereignty.
The Minister for Human Rights and Minorities Michael Kocáb has said that Czech politicians should take part of the blame for the Romany exodus that has led Canada to re-impose visa requirements on Czech nationals. He said that local politicians had played the Romany card for their own political gain and had worsened already strained relations between the majority population and the Romany minority. He cited, among others, Jiří Čunek, former mayor of Vsetin in north Moravia, and Ivana Řapkova mayor of Chomutov, north Bohemia, as cases in point. Both took a hard line with Romany rent defaulters, moving them to inadequate housing facilities on the town suburbs or confiscating their welfare allowances.
Czech Social Democrat MEP Libor Rouček was elected one of the 14 deputy presidents of the European Parliament on Tuesday, at the assembly’s constituent session. Mr. Rouček, who joined the European Parliament in 2004, has been active on the EP’s foreign committee. The ctk news agency says Czech representatives are unlikely to win any other influential posts in the EP. The fall of the Mirek Topolánek centre-right government in March has moreover complicated the country’s chances of getting an influential post in the European Commission. The bid for a portfolio and talks on a suitable candidate have been put on ice until after the early general elections in October.
Social Democrat leader Jiří Paroubek has called on the Civic Democratic Party to publicly distance itself from the Latvian For Fatherland and Freedom party and the Polish Law and Justice party with which it has allied itself within the new right-wing faction in the European Parliament. Paroubek said the Latvian nationalist party supported the annual marches of veterans of Latvian SS divisions and the Polish party held the view that homosexuality was an illness. The Social Democrat leader said that at a time of growing extremism an alliance with such parties was scandalous. Civic Democrat MEP Jan Zahradil rejected the accusations, saying they were an attempt to discredit the new right-wing faction in the EP which was a thorn in the flesh of many politicians.
Jiří Janeček has been re-elected head of Czech Television, the country’s leading public broadcaster. A former journalist who worked in Czech TV’s news department, Janeček took over the station’s management in 2003. He defended his post by emphasizing the station’s balanced budget, a successful transfer to digital broadcasting and more quality programmes.
Nearly a fifth of Czech firms are considering moving their headquarters or production abroad and most of them are looking to the East mainly due to the cheaper labour costs, according to a poll conducted by the Czech Business Chamber among some 800 firms. Others are considering a move to countries such as Great Britain or the Netherlands in search of more advantageous tax legislation and a generally more friendly business environment. Companies that are feeling the pinch of the crisis have registered a drop in demand and are trying to find other ways of cutting costs. The textile, clothing and glass industries are particularly hard hit by the strong crown and cheap competition from Asia. For example, matches producer Solo Sirkárna has already relocated its production abroad and Koh-i-noor Sušice, a leading Czech pencils producer, has moved to Asia.
The Temelin nuclear power plant in south Bohemia said on Wednesday its second unit had been reconnected to the grid after nearly a three-month planned shutdown during which experts reconstructed the low pressure turbines and upgraded the fuel charging machine. They also took a series of technical measures to enhance the reliability of the equipment. The power plant was to raise the unit's output to 80 percent in the course of the day. The first unit is running at planned output.
Heavy rain and windstorms disrupted rail traffic in the southern and central parts of the Czech Republic on Wednesday morning, the ctk news agency reported. Trains in the affected areas were frequently brought to a standstill due to fallen trees, resulting in widespread delays of up to two hours. No accidents have been reported. Meteorologists have issued a 24 hour alert, predicting torrential rain in places, hailstones and the danger of small-scale local floods.
Ottawa has introduced a visa requirement for Czech visitors, in response
to a rise in the number of Czech Romanies applying for asylum in Canada.
The Canadian immigration ministry informed Prague of the move on Monday
night. The Czech prime minister, Jan Fischer, called Canada’s step
unilateral and unfriendly, while his government reacted quickly, recalling
the Czech ambassador to Canada for consultations and announcing plans to
impose visa requirements on Canadian diplomats and civil servants.
The European Commission said it would not heed a Czech call for all EU states to impose a visa restriction on Canadians in solidarity with the Czech Republic. A spokesperson said the Commission regretted Canada’s decision and hoped it would be a temporary measure.
In the first half of this year Czech Romanies filed 1,720 asylum applications in Canada, twice as many as for the whole of 2008. They say they suffer discrimination in their home country, a claim backed by human rights groups.
Canada introduced a visa requirement for Czechs in 1997 following an influx of asylum seekers, before dropping the measure a decade later.