Czechs wake up to changes in EU state

Photo: CTK

It was a weekend of celebration. Many people spent Saturday night out in the open, drinking champagne in the streets of Prague or savouring the feeling of walking through border check points, with nothing but an identity card. The media reported on the birth of the first Euro babies in the Czech Republic and endlessly quizzed Czechs about how they felt as European citizens. Euro balloons, flags and Euro-car stickers sold like hot cakes. Now, the party's over and it's "business as usual" as the reality of our EU membership slowly sinks in. So in what way will EU membership affect people's everyday lives at this point? Daniela Lazarova sums up the main changes:

Photo: CTK
Well, the fact is that the process of fulfilling EU norms and requirements has been underway for many months now and in many ways the country had already been functioning as an EU member state. So membership itself will bring no great upheaval in any sphere. Except of course in the possibility to travel freely within the EU. That's a huge change and it's what Czechs are most looking forward to, I think. They will be able to travel on their ID cards and although they have been advised to carry their passports - just to be on the safe side - the papers report that a few Czech tourists have already made it to Britain on their citizens ID alone - which proves that it's working!

People will now also be able to live and work abroad - not just in Britain, Ireland and Sweden, but in the other EU member states as well because the set quotas for labour permits have not been filled in many states. Is this something Czechs are looking forward to?

Photo: European Commission
A survey conducted by the labour ministry suggests that only 1,6% of Czechs are seriously considering the possibility of seeking work abroad - so most people who WERE interested are already there really. I think at this stage Czechs are more interested in just travelling freely and getting to know the continent better - and they appreciate very much the fact that they will now also get emergency medical care abroad if necessary. So that's one less worry. Also speaking about medical care, Czechs will now get the benefit of medicaments that were unavailable here because they weren't registered in the CR. Now an EU registration will do.

Many people have been worried about prices - and although we didn't really experience the shopping frenzy they had in Poland - price increases have been a major concern...

That's true and while most people were out there celebrating EU membership many shopkeepers spent the weekend changing price tags on goods. That's not to say that there will be a huge price jump as a result of accession itself - but the change of VAT rates will bring some changes - prices in restaurants and fast food outlets will go up, as will the price of some services, on the other hand electronic goods - which Czechs love buying - are expected to go down so there will be some compensation.

Jan Velinger spoke to some restaurant owners and clients and here's what they had to say:

"I don't think it will be so tragic. The prices of alcohol, beer, will probably stay the same or rise by a minimum. But, the food prices, that's the big problem. Everywhere."

"Right now we are weighing just how much to increase prices, it will, unfortunately be necessary. We will have to raise prices on the menu, though we are looking for ways around it, such as raising prices on exclusive items in order to be able to keep ready-to-go daily meals low for regular customers so that the increase won't come as quite a shock. We don't want to lose any customers but an increase is inevitable."

"I think it will have a significant impact because I do eat out a lot, I'd say everyday I have my lunch in a restaurant. I have to say I believe that the 14 percent increase will seriously damage my wallet."

"It won't have any impact on me but, yeah, it's clear it will have an impact on many of my fellow citizens."

"I work in the restaurant sector and I've already seen and felt the difference in prices. On the other hand those were already expensive before, so I don't think a few crowns more will kill anybody."

Well, there you have it - eating out was fairly expensive even before accession. And most Czechs still don't eat out regularly. As for the price of food stuffs in shops and supermarkets -there's no significant change there. Some prices have gone up slightly, some have come down but your week's shopping bill should pretty much stay the same. What may change is the brands of goods on sale since some stores are already negotiating with foreign firms but buyers are not likely to complain about that - it's Czech producers who have to worry about that because now they will really start to feel the pinch of competition on the EU market.