Czechs happy after Sweden turns down free movement transition period

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Later this week leaders of the European Union's 15 member states and the 12 candidates for membership will descend upon the Swedish city of Gothenburg, for some tough talks on the future of EU enlargement. They arrive in Sweden after the shock rejection by the people of Ireland of the EU's Nice Treaty, which - if you believe the pessimists - was a disaster of Titanic proportions that has thrown the whole future of EU integration into doubt, or - as the optimists see it - a minor bump on the road to a fully integrated and greatly expanded Europe. Well the verdict's still out on that one, but there were some positive developments this week ahead of the crucial Gothenburg summit. Rob Cameron has more.

Six months ago Sweden, which holds the rotating presidency of the EU, had hoped to present the leading candidates with a concrete date for enlargement. That now looks almost certain not to happen, with Sweden's Foreign Minister Anna Lindh merely saying it would be "excellent" if the EU could be "more specific" on dates in Gothenburg.

But sceptics say concrete dates are now irrelevant, in the wake of Friday's Irish referendum on the Nice Treaty. The Irish people rejected the EU's internal reforms, which had been painstaking hammered out as a prerequisite for enlargement. One of the Irish concerns raised by 'No' campaigners was the issue of Ireland's EU subsidies, which they said would be slashed to cover the costs of enlargement. Pavel Telicka is the Czech Republic's chief negotiator for EU membership. He says Ireland - currently enjoying an economic boom - will receive or lose its subsidies irrespective of whether the Czech Republic joins or not.

Pavel Telicka
"I don't think we should we create a society based on transfers of financial means, even between those that are no longer eligible. I can tell you that once we will not be eligible, I'll be happy. I hope that I'll still be alive by that time. While Ireland remains eligible, it will be getting the financial means, irrespective of whether we join or not. Once it is no longer eligible, it won't get them. And again irrespective of whether we join or not. Because if we join and we are eligible for financial means, it's not so much Ireland but more other countries that are net contributors."

But there was some good news in another, equally divisive area of negotiations - the free movement of labour. Germany and Austria are demanding seven-year transition periods to protect their labour markets - which the candidates say are unfair. But Sweden has announced it will not apply for transition periods, a move welcomed by Pavel Telicka:

"It's welcome news and I think this is a good example for others. I think the Swedes have now understood one important thing. That there is no reason for concern. But should a situation in the future arise that suddenly the Swedish labour market will be flooded by labour force from elsewhere, they always have the possibility of safeguard measures. And this in my opinion is something that should be followed by other member states."

Meanwhile Hungary surprised observers on Tuesday by breaking ranks with its fellow candidates, accepting transition periods. The EU said it still needed to talk to the Czechs and the Poles before it could close the issue, but there were indications that Hungary's decision to cave in so quickly may not have gone down well in Warsaw and Prague: this was Pavel Telicka's rather terse one-word response to the news:

"Congratulations."