EU summit: CR one of countries on track for membership

Milos Zeman in Laeken, photo CTK

During a summit in Laeken, near Brussels on Sunday, European Union leaders named ten countries that are believed to be on the right road to membership. The Czech Republic was among them. But despite optimism that the first batch could be in the union by 2004, the fifteen-member bloc was quick to point out that there was still plenty of work to be done. More from Dita Asiedu:

Milos Zeman in Laeken,  photo CTK
Speaking after the summit, the Czech Prime Minister, Milos Zeman, said he was pleased with its outcome, as important decisions had been made that would help the Czech Republic prepare for membership. One of those decisions was to establish a convention, to lead debate on the EU's future as of March next year. The convention will be appointed from the governments and parliaments of member countries but will also include representation from the thirteen candidate countries. Mr Christian Bourgin is the First Counsellor of the policy and information section of the EC delegation here in Prague:

"The so-called Laeken declaration which addresses the future of the European Union along with the candidate countries, the decision has been to launch a so-called convention to bring a new decisive reform of the EU - to make it simpler, stronger and more present on the international scene. The form of the convention is quite new and very innovative because for the first time amongst other things, representatives of candidate countries will take part in the process. It will not be a decisive body but an advisory body and in that context the views of the candidate countries will be fully taken into account."

The Czech Republic will be represented in the convention, but will have no voting rights. According to Prime Minister Zeman, however, it would not have been realistic for the Czech Republic to have full voting rights in the new body, when it was not yet a fully fledged EU member.

"I think it's very realistic, because if we are not a member of a club that calls itself the European Union, we cannot make decisions about its rules. I think we have a full right to fully participate in all discussions but not being an EU member, we have no right to vote - that's only natural."

On the home front, however, Mr Zeman's view on the planned convention - and the Czech Republic's role in it - did not share much support. Speculation has arisen as to whether the country's representation will actually be a fair one, and whether different Czech political forces will be evenly represented, as Petr Pavlik, from the institute of International Relations in Prague told Radio Prague:

" I see one danger here - the two parties of the so-called opposition agreement, which means the governing Social Democratic Party and the Civic Democratic Party of Vaclav Klaus, which is supporting the minority government. There is a fear that these parties would like to occupy all the positions in this convention. There are going to be two members of parliament and two members of the government and they want to leave aside the Four Coalition Party, for example."

While the invitation of the Czech Republic to take part in the convention has been widely welcomed, the issue looks set to become a hot party political topic.