September 21, 2009 / 3:36 PM / 8 years ago

EU warns may impose visas on Canadian diplomats

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - The European Union may require Canadian diplomats to obtain visas unless Canada restores visa-free travel for Czech visitors by the end of the year, the EU justice commissioner said Monday.

Jacques Barrot said he told EU interior ministers meeting in Brussels this was one possible measure the bloc's executive arm could take if the issue was not resolved.

Barrot told a news conference the EU would work with Canada to resolve the issue, but added: "We cannot stand idly by.

"This situation is not acceptable -- not just for the Czech Republic but for the European Union as a whole. The European Union is a whole and it is not right and proper for Canada to require visas from one member of this ensemble."

A retaliatory step would require the formal endorsement of the 27 European Union countries, and Barrot said it remained to be seen if all member states would back it.

An EU diplomat said the proposal won broad support at Monday's closed-door meeting as a sign of solidarity to a fellow EU country.

However, speaking for the Swedish EU Presidency, Stockholm's Migration and Asylum Minister Tobias Billstrom said it was important to strike the right balance.

He said full visa reciprocity was the aim of the EU, but it wanted to avoid any kind of "visa war." "That would be very unfortunate for all stakeholders," he told the news conference.

Barrot said as a first step, Canada should open an office in Prague where Czechs could obtain Canadian visas, instead of having to travel to Vienna as they do now.

Ottawa reintroduced the requirement for Czechs to obtain visitor visas in July after hundreds of minority Roma from the central European country sought asylum in Canada.

The Roma said they had been discriminated against by the majority ethnic Czech population, a view backed by human rights agencies.

Canada said its visa decision was a response to what it considered bogus refugee claims.

The Czech Republic alone cannot impose visas on Canadians because it must respect the policy of the EU, which has a non-visa arrangement with Canada.

Reporting by David Brunnstrom; Editing by Janet Lawrence

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