The European Union warned Tuesday that it would take retaliatory action against Canada unless its authorities lift visa requirements by the end of the year for citizens from the Czech Republic.
"We are warning the Canadian authorities about this. We really want them to find a quick solution," a European Commission spokesman on justice issues said, adding that the EU's executive body had made proposals to resolve the standoff.
"Unless the measures we are proposing are established in a satisfactory manner by the by end of 2009, then we will recommend re-imposing requirements for certain categories of Canadian citizens," he said.
The action would target Canadian diplomats and government employees wanting to travel to any of the 27 EU nations.
In July, Canada imposed visa requirements for travelers from the Czech Republic, an EU member, after refugee claims soared particularly among Roma people. It took similar action against Mexico.
The Czech government reacted by introducing visas for Canadian diplomats and recalling its ambassador in Canada for consultations. But it cannot impose visas on all Canadians under EU law.
A solidarity clause within the EU allows all member countries to impose visas on Canadian citizens who want to travel to Europe. But the procedure is lengthy, not automatic.
Canada's visa requirement for the Czech Republic was lifted in October 2007. Since then, nearly 3,000 refugee claims had been filed by Czech nationals, compared to less than five in 2006.
The Canadian government said the dramatic increase suggested that many cases were bogus, as a lot of claims were either abandoned or withdrawn before a final decision was made.
The EU justice affairs spokesman described it as "a highly regrettable situation".
"We hope that this issue can be resolved as fast as possible," he said.