EU Commissioner promises flood relief to the Czech Republic

Gunter Verheugen in Prague, Photo: CTK

The European Union's Commissioner for Enlargement, Gunter Verheugen, gave the Czech government reasons to be satisfied on Thursday, when he said that to all intents and purposes the EU already considered the Czech Republic an EU member. The main reason for his brief visit to the country on Thursday was to look at the damage caused by the recent catastrophic floods, and to offer EU support. Radio Prague's David Vaughan joined Mr Verheugen as he visited one of the most devastated parts of old Prague.

Gunter Verheugen in Prague,  Photo: CTK
I'm in the ancient district of Kampa Island, which was completely under water during the floods. Just beside me there's a mark from the floods of 1845 and 1784 showing how high the water came. You can see that the water in this year's floods came a full 30 centimetres higher than that mark. Gunter Verheugen has come for a press conference to this point just below the Charles Bridge.

Mr Verheugen, what are your impressions on seeing the floods here?

"I think that the reality is always worse than the pictures you can see, and I'm really shocked to see how seriously this beautiful city was affected. My second feeling was a feeling of deep gratitude to all those known and unknown people who helped to save the city: police, fire brigade, the military, other authorities. I think that the city did a great job, not just for the citizens of Prague, but for all of us, because this beautiful city is part of the cultural heritage, not only of your country but of Europe. Certainly I would say - it is obvious - that more support is needed, more than we have been able to allocate for your country so far, and therefore I am very happy that the Commission yesterday opened the way for additional support, and I hope that it will come very soon."

Gunter Verheugen in Prague,  Photo: CTK
The EU has already offered some 60 million Euros in aid, and one of the main reasons for Mr Verheugen's visit was to present a brand new EU Commission initiative to help with disaster relief throughout Europe. As it faces a cleaning-up bill of up to 90 billion crowns - or three billion Euros - the Czech Republic will welcome the new fund with open arms. Mr Verheugen described the initiative in more detail.

"The decision that was made yesterday was to establish a new disaster relief fund that is also eligible for candidate countries. The Commission will propose to establish such a fund of 500 million Euros already this year, and the Czech Republic will be part of that as soon as the political decisions are taken. I cannot say how much and I do not know the rules today, but the principle is already established."

The EU commissioner for enlargement wrapped up his visit to the Czech Republic by sharing a beer with Prague's mayor Igor Nemec, in one of the few pubs on Kampa which remained untouched by the water. As the mayor pointed out, it almost seemed like a return to normality:

"Our beer was a symbolic act. We want to invite tourists back again to Prague."