Benes Decrees continue to mar Czech-Austrian relations

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Austria's Finance Minister, Karl-Heinz Grasser said on Wednesday, that the Czech Republic would not be able to join the EU unless it repealed the Benes Decrees, which after the Second World War provided the legal basis for the forced expulsion and confiscation of property of some 2.5 million ethnic Germans from then Czechoslovakia. This is not the first time that Austria's politicians have called upon their neighbour to abolish the decrees - they have repeatedly threatened to block the Czech Republic's accession to the EU, although each time there was little reaction from the Czech government. Prime Minister Milos Zeman, however, believes that the decrees are no longer relevant. Dita Asiedu spoke to Radio Austria International's Kerry Skyring and asked him whether he believed that Austria would eventually carry out its threat if the Czechs continue to remain silent on the issue.

"I don't think so. Most of the calls here in Austria come from the Freedom Party and it's a little hard to know what the proper official line of the government here is, the Chancellor speaks about wanting the Benes decrees abolished in the Czech Republic, but it doesn't make a direct link to blocking the entry of the Czech Republic into the EU."

How do you think does Mr. Grasser want to block the Czech Republic's entry into the EU?

"Well, that's what he has not made clear. I guess there are requirements on the Czech Republic to remove something from its statutes books, which is discriminatory, but in the end I think it will come down to the European Commission saying to the Czech Republic, 'well, this goes against our requirements for entry into the European Union, perhaps you should remove it.'"

We have mixed feelings about the Czech-Austrian relations on our political scene. What is the situation like on the Austrian political scene, what they think of the Czech- Austrian relations? Will such issues as Temelin, the Benes decrees, the free movement of labour problem after the expansion get in the way?

"I think in Austria there's a lot of concern about the relationship with the Czech Republic and it's not going too far to describe the relations as strained. The Austrians find themselves wanting to improve the relationship but inevitably these things are going to be a problem and it has to be solved. One can argue that Austria has not played its cards correctly, over Temelin we've taken a far too strong position, the government continues, though, and it's quite clear at this point, that it will not be standing in the way of the Czech Republic's entry into the European Union. "