20 years of Czech membership in the European Union

Twenty years ago, Czechia officially became a member country of the European Union. 

Few people doubt that it was a truly historic moment. The simultaneous accession of ten mostly post-communist countries on May 1st, 2004, was the largest in terms of the number of new member states and their population.The current President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, sent this special message to all Czech citizens on the occasion of the anniversary:

Ursula von der Leyen | Photo: Czech Presidency of the Council of the European Union

"Dear people of Czechia, twenty years ago our family was finally united in a common home. Czechia was always at the heart of Europe. But the Iron Curtain has pulled us apart. The slogan of the Velvet Revolution was 'Back to Europe' and this is exactly what you did. You chose Europe and look how much stronger we have grown ever since. Your commitment to freedeom embodied in towering figures like Václav Havel not only inspires rest of Europe, it has made you a European leader in standing up to Russian aggression."

Says Ursula von der Leyen, the President of the EU Commission. But it has not always been smooth sailing when it comes to Czech membership in the EU. According to a recent poll published by the Commission in late 2023, Czechs are the most eurosceptic of all the 27 member nations.

Karel Barták | Photo: Khalil Baalbaki,  Czech Radio

We got in touch with Karel Barták, who was the Czech Press Agency correspondent in Brussels for many years and later worked for the commission. He followed the accession negotiations for years and co-wrote a book about the whole process. From today's perspective, it seems almost automatic or inevitable that Czechia would head for EU membership in the 1990s and join in 2004. But was it really so automatic? Or were there perhaps even moments when it seemed improbable that the EU would want to enlarge and let Czechia, along with all the former Soviet satellites + Malta, and Cyprus, join?

Radek Špicar | Photo: Ian Willoughby,  Radio Prague International

To ge a perspective of someone with business experience and economic education who knows the EU reality through and through. Radek Špicar is a businessman and Vice-president of the Czech Confederation of Industry. He graduated from Charles University and the University of Cambridge and is also a former deputy for the vice-prime minister for the economy and later a member of the management of Škoda Auto. For several years he also led the Central European branch of the American think tank Aspen Institute and served as the vice-president of Business Europe, which is the largest European employers’ union. What did the twenty years of EU membership bring to the Czech economy?