EU commissioner Verheugen discusses further enlargement on Prague visit

Gunter Verheugen

Gunter Verheugen, vice-president of the European Commission, is currently in Prague meeting senior Czech politicians, including Prime Minister Jiri Paroubek. But he is no stranger to the Czech capital - he was a frequent visitor prior to May 2004, in his then capacity as commissioner for enlargement. On his first visit since the Czech Republic and nine other countries joined the EU, he discussed the experience of the last two years, and prospects for further enlargement.

"My impression is that all our promises came true. My political assessment after two years of membership of your country in the European Union is a very clear one: the Czech Republic is good for Europe and Europe is good for the Czech Republic."

Given the current atmosphere in the European Union and the failure of the constitution, do you think after the next enlargement with Romania and Bulgaria there will be further enlargement in the future?

"Certainly, there will. This is...history, not political day-to-day work. But certainly we will not see such a strong and exhausting effort as we made with the accession of the ten or twelve.

"By the way, I have always said that. Everybody should be aware that after the accession of the ten eastern and central European countries for a very long time the western border of the former Soviet Union will be the eastern border of the European Union, excluding the Baltic countries of course, which are members of the EU. I've said that very, very often.

"My view is that we must offer our neighbours something else, we cannot tell them 'you have to wait'. We have to develop relations. When I was still in charge I developed a so-called European Neighbourhood Policy, which means that we offer countries like Ukraine or other neighbours full economic integration. And gradually more political integration."

"Your question was whether we will see more integration, and the answer is yes. And I'll give you the reason why: if a European nation decides that it wants to belong to the European Union there is no power in the world strong enough to keep it away."

What about Turkey?

"We're already negotiating with Turkey. The strategic and geopolitical reasons for that are obvious. And we will see after a certain period of time whether Turkey can meet our standards or not.

"The political point here is that a Turkey which would eventually join the European Union would be a completely different Turkey, would be a Turkey that nobody must be afraid of.

"My advice in that case is - let them negotiate. Let the Turks do their homework, let them continue with the far-reaching reform process in their institutional system, in their judicial system and in the economy that they have started. And then at the end of the day we will decide."