Czech Republic and US Strike Visa Deal
The United States and the Czech Republic have signed an important agreement that has left some delighted, some infuriated, and few unaffected. The important document will lead the way to securing visa-free travel for Czech citizens to the United States sometime later this year. The document, a 'memorandum of understanding', was signed by Czech Interior Minister Ivan Langer and US Secretary of Homeland Security Michael Chertoff, and is the first step to the Czech Republic joining the US Visa Waiver Program, which allows citizens of the countries in the program to travel to the US without visas.
However, as with all deals with the United States, there is a catch, and it's not a small one. First, in compliance with the never-ending 'War on Terror', the Czech Republic will strengthen cooperation with the US on air security and information on travellers going to (or even flying over) the US. But even more importantly, the US has been pushing the Czech Republic into building a radar station as part of an American missile shield against "rouge states" to be located on Czech and Polish soil. With the United States' compliance on visas, it seems that the Czechs will undoubtedly comply with regards to the missile shield, which will leave many Czech citizens, the majority of whom are against the shield, infuriated.
However, among the infuriated are not just Czech citizens, but most of all, the European Union, who feels that the Czech Republic has gone too far in negotiating its own bilateral agreement with Washington. In fact, the EU is thinking about taking legal action to prevent the Czech Republic from signing the deal. On paper, the EU should have competence over visa and border policies for the entire bloc, and has discouraged individual states from signing agreements with the US. However, most of Western Europe is already part of the Visa Waiver Program, and it seems unfair to the newer EU members that they have not yet been included.
But that hasn't stopped Czech Prime Minister Topolanek from meeting American President Bush, and the Visa Waiver Program as well as the American missile shield will inevitably be the main topics of discussion.