Euroarcade project thinly disguised battle between two Vaclavs

Running alongside the back of the Prague Castle complex is a long, rather featureless street called Jeleni. Those of you who've visited the Castle will probably know it - the 22 tram trundles along Jeleni street, past the pleasant greenery of the Royal Gardens and the Belvedere summer house, and on to a stop called "Prague Castle". But if you stay on the 22, the tram takes you past a long, grey wall on your left, with bushes hanging over the side of it. Believe it or not, this wall, and this stretch of uninspiring road, could become the scene of a fierce political battle between two arch rivals.

Vaclav Klaus
It was along Jeleni street that the country's former president, Vaclav Havel, used to travel on his way to work. As he sat in his Audi limousine, staring out of the bulletproof windows, he was always struck by how empty and lacking in character Jeleni street was. His playwright's mind - used to constructing imaginary theatre sets in his head - toyed with how the street could be improved. Finally, in December last year, 10 months after stepping down as president, he unveiled his vision to the world: Vaclav Havel wants to build something called "a Euroarcade".

Borek Sipek
The story sparked off a flurry of interest by the media. I contacted Mr Havel's court architect Borek Sipek, one of the Euroarcade's spiritual fathers. Could we go and have a look? I asked. Sure, he replied, and we arranged to meet at the tram stop.

As we walked up and down Jeleni on a freezing January afternoon, Borek Sipek described to me his plan: the Euroarcade would be a row of 25 houses symbolizing the 25 present and future members of the European Union. Each would have two floors, one open to the public, one a "residence" for artists, painters, musicians of each country. Each house would be designed by leading architects from that country: a permanent monument to the historic reunification of Europe.

The blueprints are ready, the architects have been found, finances are being sought. Vaclav Havel's international stature has given the project a degree of credibility it would otherwise not enjoy. But there's a catch. Vaclav Havel is no longer the president.

Vaclav Havel
He was succeeded last year by his long-time rival, Vaclav Klaus. The conservative former prime minister has very different views on European integration. President Klaus dislikes being called a "Euro-sceptic", preferring the word "Euro-realist." In other words he's grudgingly in favour of his country joining the EU, but says it's really nothing to get excited about. And certainly not celebrate.

I recently went to see Mr Klaus's Chancellor, and asked him about the Euroarcade project. He said he had nothing against it per se, just not here, not at Prague Castle. Let Mr Havel build his Euroarcade somewhere else: Prague Castle has survived for a thousand years and has escaped "fashionable modifications" as he called them. Even the Communists didn't dare tarnish the site with some concrete monstrosity. So with the President's Office against, and Mr Havel and his friends for, the stage is set for a good old political slanging match. Accusations of euro-scepticism and megalomania will be traded back and forth in the papers. But ultimately the Euroarcade, at least during President Klaus's time in office, is unlikely to appear in Jeleni street. After all it's Vaclav Klaus, not Vaclav Havel, who holds the keys to Prague Castle.