British Minister for Europe Denis MacShane visits the Czech Republic

Denis MacShane

With the British six-month presidency of the EU starting in July, the UK Minister for Europe Denis MacShane made a one-day trip to the Czech Republic on Thursday to discuss various European issues with his Czech counterparts. As well as meeting the Czech Foreign Minister Cyril Svoboda, Minister MacShane gave a lecture at Prague's Charles University on a matter that has aroused great controversy in both countries - the planned European constitution.

Mr MacShane rejected the Euro-sceptic view that the constitution will establish a new super-state. Instead he described it as an international treaty of many independent national states. One of the main goals of his visit to the Czech Republic was to ensure that the Czech Republic and the United Kingdom try to coordinate their steps towards adopting the constitution.

"We are continually exchanging views with Mr. Svoboda, Mr. Muller and other Czech friends, because the new Europe is a team Europe, it is Europe of nation states. We will talk to each other, because what Prague decides is very important because the Czech Republic has the same vote as the British do."

Mr MacShane said that in the run-up to their referenda on the constitution, both countries should try to make sure that the public are given as much information as possible about what the document will really mean.

"We're learning from all the referendum experiences in the past and we will talk with the government in the Czech Republic, but obviously there are other political questions at the moment in the Czech Republic, just as back home in Britain. I'm also a bit worried about getting votes for the British general election."

The Czech Republic and the United Kingdom are two of the countries where the outcome of the referendum is least clear. But Mr MacShane is confident that - at least in Britain - the treaty will be confirmed.

"We don't believe that the British people will repudiate an international treaty that has been negotiated and signed in good faith and honour by the British government which received an overwhelming vote of confidence at the second reading of the bill in the House of Commons. We will have to wait and see what happens in our British general election, but I am confident that anti-European candidates will not perform very well and that the members of parliament will be returned from the Labour, Liberal Democrats and other parties that support the European Union."