EC President unveils Plan-D in Prague

Vaclav Klaus (right) and Jose Manuel Barroso, photo: CTK

A European Commission delegation led by its President Jose Manuel Barroso is currently touring EU member states with an initiative aimed at bringing the European Union closer to its citizens and overcoming the crisis brought on by the rejection of the EU constitution by the French and Dutch. Mr. Barroso's first stop was in Prague, where he unveiled a so called Plan-D, which, he said, should show the way forward.

Vaclav Klaus (right) and Jose Manuel Barroso, photo: CTK
Jose Barroso: "The Czech Republic is very important for the European Union and we believe the European Union is very important for the Czech Republic. So we decided to launch this Plan D for dialogue, debate and democracy in the Czech Republic. We will not only meet the authorities of this country but also make use of the media to engage in a public debate, to listen to your concerns but also to give you our message, our views about the way the European Union could and should go in the future."

And what better place to test the strength of his arguments than at Prague Castle, in a debate with President Vaclav Klaus who is generally regarded as one on Europe's leading Euro-sceptics. Following their meeting both men had high praise for Plan-D - each for different reasons. Mr. Barosso, because he believes it will open the way to greater EU integration, President Klaus because he hopes it will prevent it.

Vaclav Klaus: "I think I can say that we agree on where we find ourselves today. President Barroso believes we should travel further beyond this point, while I believe that we have already passed the optimal and reasonable point of integration."

The EC president begged to disagree, saying that the French and Dutch rejections of the EU Constitution were a problem that could be resolved through dialogue and that today Europe needed unity more than ever before.

From the left: Jiri Paroubek, Jose Manuel Barroso and Vladimir Spidla, photo: CTK
Jose Barroso: "Are we going to be paralyzed by that or not? I think not. We should get on with our work. At the same time we should take advantage of this period to have this kind of reflection and debate about the future of Europe and also - in my view, which you may not agree with - to show the relevance of Europe, why we need a strong European Union. I believe we need it more than ever."

Following talks at Prague Castle, Mr. Barroso met the Prime Minister Jiri Paroubek, who is known to be a staunch supporter of further integration, and together they opened an information Euro-centre in Prague, the first of several which are to function in different parts of the country. Later the Commission President, its Vice-president Margot Wallstrom and the EU Commissioner for Social Affairs Vladimir Spidla took part in a televised debate with members of the public.

Although the majority of Czechs support EU membership and a recent poll suggests that 56% of them believe it gives their country many advantages, the general public is not overly concerned with EU matters or the workings of the European Union. They just expect it to produce results. When a TV crew trailing the Commission President asked one bystander if he could say who Jose Manuel Barroso was, the man replied "an opera singer?".