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Last Updated: Thursday, 28 February 2008, 20:00 GMT
Czechs defiant on US visa accord
Czech Interior Minister Ivan Langer
Czechs would have to use a US electronic travel permit
The Czech government has said it had no choice but to sign a deal on visa-free travel to the US despite a strong EU warning that it may face legal action.

The European Commission fears the accord undercuts its own talks with the US on an EU-wide visa agreement.

But Czech interior minister Ivan Langer criticised the EU. "We've been waiting years and nothing happened," he said.

The commission denied it had backed down, insisting it had a legal duty to act if the Czechs had broken EU law.

I'm not a slave of the European Commission
Ivan Langer
Czech interior minister

But Mr Langer said he was sure there would be no reason for legal action.

Eight other EU countries which joined the bloc in 2004, along with Greece, are denied visa-free travel to the United States.

The European Commission, which has responsibility for negotiating visa policy, says it has been trying to persuade Washington to extend the visa-waiver programme to include all member states.

The EU signed an accord with the US in June 2007, that allowed a limited amount of information on air passengers to be passed on to the US authorities, in return for the waiving of visa restrictions.

Two months later, the US Congress passed new rules, calling on the US government to consider requiring European countries to adopt additional measures.

VISA-FREE TRAVEL TO US
Ireland, Portugal, Austria, Italy
Belgium, Slovenia, Denmark, Luxembourg
Spain, Finland, Sweden, France
Netherlands, Germany, United Kingdom

The US approached a number of countries individually, offering visa-free travel if they signed up to the tougher deal.

The Czech government signed its own accord with the US on Tuesday under which Czech travellers would have to use a US electronic travel permit.

Mr Langer is unrepentant. "I'm a free human being in Europe, and I'm not a slave of the European Commission," he said.

It is believed that more EU members - Hungary, Lithuania and Estonia - could follow suit.

The EU Justice Commissioner, Franco Frattini, is still pushing for a European standard when it comes to striking deals with the Americans.

"What is absolutely necessary is to be clear on a common set of guidelines," he said.



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