Backing Ukraine's efforts towards integration in the EU

President Vaclav Klaus and his Ukrainian counterpart Viktor Yushchenko, photo: CTK

The accession of Turkey and eventually also Ukraine to the European Union is something that has won support most recently from the right-of-centre Civic Democrats, not least the party's founding father President Vaclav Klaus. The president, in Kiev on Tuesday, fully backed efforts by the country towards eventual accession, saying he hoped it would take them considerably less time than it took the Czechs.

President Vaclav Klaus and his Ukrainian counterpart Viktor Yushchenko, photo: CTK
For some perspective on that Jan Velinger spoke with David Kral of the Czech think-tank Europeum, asking him about the attitudes of Czech politicians and the public towards integration, including Ukraine.

"The impression is that the Czech public as well as the political elites are quite 'open' and receptive to the idea of further enlargement of the European Union. That applies to both Turkey and Ukraine, although Turkey, as we know, is a bit more of a controversial issue. At the moment the whole question of membership has been exacerbated by the two 'No' votes in the recent referendums in France and the Netherlands rejecting the constitutional treaty, and I think that that is going to have quite strong consequences for future enlargement. But, generally, Czech politicians are committed to enlarging the zone of security and stability in Europe. EU membership seems to be the best way forward."

As you say, the EU is in crisis. Yet, at this very moment the president, as well as the opposition Civic Democrats, have been pushing forward the debate - at least here - on accession. Is it a coincidence?

How does the Czech stance compare to that of the other Visegrad countries?

"Well, for example, Poland has really taken this question on board and we have seen great activism by Polish politicians vis-‚à-vis Ukraine, especially following the presidential crisis. A year ago we would not have seen any chance or perspective of Ukraine moving anywhere closer. Now it seems that the signals sent from Kiev are quite clear."

"I think it does put the EU in a new position as well. Poland has also been pushing for the acceptance of Turkey. Basically, the argument goes that if we say 'Yes' to Turkey, we can not possibly say 'No' to Ukraine. Sooner or later the EU will have to take a position and say whether or not it considers Ukraine a 'candidate' country."