EU summit in Nice - step toward united Europe?

The European Union summit in Nice could become a first step towards creating a vast and unified bloc stretching from the Atlantic, north to the Arctic and east to Turkey's East Anatolian borders. This ambitious vision will come true if the EU takes in the former communist countries of Central and Eastern Europe and the other countries waiting impatiently in the queue to join. At the Nice summit, leaders of these countries, including Czech Prime Minister Milos Zeman, had a chance to outline their vision of the future united Europe. Vladimir Tax reports:

The future European Union, as envisaged by some of its leaders, could count a population of some 500 million, a continent-wide frontier-free market, a single currency and even a European military Rapid Reaction Force. But before the current 15-member club will be able to realise this vision, it must undergo substantial internal reforms. There is a general consensus that success at Nice is a fundamental precondition for enlargement, which could begin in 2004 or 2005 with the admission of two or three of the most advanced candidates.

The dozen applicant nations are becoming increasingly impatient to see the EU move to action. The Polish, Hungarian and Czech prime ministers have warned that public opinion in their countries will be disappointed and confused if Nice is a failure.

Despite the EU's promise that the reforms will be completed in time to admit the frontrunners, Czech Prime Minister Milos Zeman expressed only reserved optimism on the chances that the Nice summit would overcome some of the major sticking points in the reforms. He said that should the opportunity to reach a consensus be wasted in Nice, it will be impossible for the Czech Republic to join the EU in 2003, a year widely considered as a reasonable accession date.

Mr. Zeman spoke in favour of the non-binding Charter of Fundamental Rights which was approved on Thursday, becoming the core of the future European constitution. He also supported the trend of deepening the common monetary, foreign and defence policies to make Europe strong both economically and politically.

However, the prime minister's view is quite different from that of other leading Czech politicians, namely the former prime minister and current speaker of the lower house, Vaclav Klaus, who is more of a Euro-sceptic and has many times expressed his reservations about a closely integrated Europe.

So, while EU members are trying to bridge the gaps between their differing perceptions of the Union, it will be interesting to see whether Czech politicians are able to unite THEIR visions. Otherwise, a reformed Europe might eventually open its arms for a country which cannot decide whether it wants to be embraced.