EU information centre works to alleviate fears relating to admission

As expected the Czech Republic's admission to the EU has become an important election issue. What came as a surprise is the fact that the planned "pro-EU strategy" of the vast majority of Czech politicians has turned into a defense of Czech national interests, in connection with renewed controversy over the Benes decrees, and promises that Czechs would not lose out by joining the EU.

According to the latest survey results if a referendum on joining the EU were held today 54% of respondents would vote YES, 18% would be against Czech membership in the EU and 13% are undecided. We asked the head of the EU's information centre in Prague Daniela Cervova to find out to what she ascribes this cautious attitude and what the EU centre is doing to reassure and inform the Czech public.

"I think it is lack of objective information, especially in the regions and then there is the fact that Czechs are very skeptical. In all the other candidate countries especially Poland and Hungary people are very much in favour of joining the EU . But for some Czechs the idea of having a new centre of power in Brussels is hard to stomach. I think they are afraid of loosing their sovereignty of being dependant on someone again, of having someone else make decisions on their behalf . This is obviously not true but people believe it and our task is to persuade them that it is, in fact, the other way round."

Well given what you've just said it must be a very difficult task indeed. What kind of events do you have and what do people respond to best?

"We have a very nicely done web page which is widely visited but of course we know that people in the regions have no internet access so what we try to do is to set up regional visits by the head of delegation Mr. Ramiro Cibrian. He'll go to a given region on a set day and meet with various people. He'll meet with the mayor, trade unions, teachers, pensioners and there is always a public debate. We also cooperate with other regional EU information centres, i.e. the network set up by the foreign ministry. We try to spread information through fact-sheets, publications through leaflets but as I said it is sometimes hard to reach some groups of people who are undecided or skeptical."

Do you do anything at schools to address the young generation?

"Well, of course we try to address them through our web page. We have some CD ROM games like Hello Europe. We respond to requests for a lecture. Many lectures are held here at the information centre or we send someone to the school so yes, schools are also a target group but our main target groups are pensioners, trade unions, women , in general older people who are more pessimistic because we know that the young are very much in favour of joining the EU. What we have to do and what we try to do most is to target those people who are undecided or who are against EU accession."

I noticed that you give seminars once a week. What topics draw the public most?

"Environment, the Euro and the economic and social impact of EU accession on the Czech Republic."