Czech Republic joined NATO 3 years ago


The Czech Republic's Temelin nuclear power plant has never been far from the front pages since going into test operation last year. The station has been plagued with technical glitches, and Temelin has become a sore point in relations between the Czechs and fiercely non-nuclear Austria. Austria's ruling coalition is locked in dispute over the plant - both parties are against it, but the far-right Freedom Party insists on vetoing Czech membership of the EU unless Prague contemplates shutting the plant down altogether. Peter Sichrovsky is the party's Secretary General for Foreign Relations, and earlier my colleague Rob Cameron spoke to him by telephone.

Peter Sichrovsky:"This is about finding a solution together with the Czech Republic, and I think there have been a lot of wrong words used in the past that create a situation that is not very good for two countries that have a long history together. I think what the Austrian side now is trying to find is a solution that gives both countries a possibility to get out of this really difficult situation."

Radio Prague: Right, that all sounds very reasonable, but on Friday your party said quite clearly that Czech membership of the EU will be vetoed unless Prague is willing to shut down the Temelin nuclear plant. Now, that's really rather uncompromising language, isn't it?

PS:"As I said, the language became very...I would almost call it hysterical in the last month and months, because we concentrated on one more or less smaller issue when you look at the long list of negotiations between the EU and the Czech Republic. We should both find a way now that it is not becoming an issue where nobody wants to back off or step back or try to find a compromise. All political parties in Austria want the Czech Republic in the EU, but also at the same time, based on these scientific reports, are extremely nervous about Temelin. So I think everybody has to understand, also on the other side of the border, that this is a very sensitive issue, especially if you look at the history of Austria as being one of the few countries in Europe that decided not to have any atomic energy plants."

RP: Well right, and indeed if you do look at the map of Europe, Austria is surrounded by nuclear reactors, and the vast majority of those reactors are much older than Temelin. There's one in Hungary, one in Slovenia, two in Slovakia, four in Switzerland and eleven in Germany - why are you making such a fuss about one modern nuclear reactor?

PS:The problem of "modern" is not so clear to define. There are very serious accusations that part of it is modern, part of it is old-fashioned - I'm not a specialist, and I don't want to get into the details. But we have to listen to the specialists, and we also have to respect that there is a majority in Austria of the population that is just afraid of it. I think the worst mistake was made by politicians in the past, that you blame people who are afraid for being wrong. Being afraid is a very emotional reaction, and you have to deal with it."

RP: Your critics say you are just exploiting public opposition in Austria to Temelin for your own political ends. You haven't done so well in recent elections, and this is just a way of making up for those political losses. What do you say to them?

PS: "That's a very cheap excuse for dealing with the fear in the population. I don't know any politician who ignores opinions in the population. Show me one political party that goes into an election and just totally ignores the emotions of people and the political opinion of people, and their opinion about dangerous situations. Accusing the Austrian Freedom Party of using this for their political advantage is more or less accusing a baker of using flour to make bread."