Foreign Minister slams delay in opening EU borders to newcomers

Foreign Minister Alexandr Vondra, photo: CTK

A wave of discontent swept across the ten countries which joined the European Union in 2004 when the news emerged from Brussels recently that they will not be allowed to join the borderless "Schengen" zone until at least a year after the original promised date. Czech officials have been among those most vocal in protesting at what they call a denial of one of the European Union's fundamental freedoms - the freedom of movement.

Foreign Minister Alexandr Vondra, photo: CTK
The delay in the expansion of the borderless zone was strongly criticised by the new Czech prime minister, Mirek Topolanek, who discussed it with his Slovak counterpart in Bratislava on Thursday. Meanwhile, the new foreign minister, Alexandr Vondra protested against the postponement on his trips to Berlin on Wednesday and to Vienna on Thursday where he spoke after the meeting of foreign ministers from countries of the Regional Partnership group.

"The Czech Republic is certainly very disappointed by the proposal to postpone our entry into Schengen. That's not an example of a move that should bring some positive message to our people. The opening of the border is one of those few examples which we can show to the people - that there are some real results and the explanation of the technicalities like the air-conditioning for the computers in an age when we are sending rockets to the Moon is something that neither myself nor the Czech people can understand. So we would like to see an explanation and timetable which would not be changed from year to year."

Mr Vondra also outlined a perhaps humorous idea on Thursday, in response to news that the European Union plans to raise taxes on that most popular of Czech products - beer.

"Yesterday, I was in Berlin and I was proposing to the Germans to create an alliance for beer in Europe. Maybe you noticed that there is some proposal by the European Commission to raise the taxes on beer while to keep intact the taxes on wine. I can't imagine explaining this injustice to the Czech people under any circumstances. The German response was very warm yesterday and today when I was lobbying for this alliance in the corridor after the meeting, the Slovak reaction was very interesting. I believe that Poland will join us to. And of course that the Hungarians, Austrians and Slovenians are also wine-lovers but they understand that this is really an injustice and this is something that Europe can't tolerate."