Freedom Party furious over Benes decrees resolution

Wednesday's uncompromising resolution by the Czech parliament on the post-war Benes decrees - which sanctioned the expulsion of ethnic Germans from Czechoslovakia after 1945 - immediately provoked an angry reaction from neighbouring Austria. Peter Westenthaler, parliamentary leader for Austria's right-wing Freedom Party, repeated his party's threat that it would not allow the Czech Republic into the European Union with the decrees, saying the issue was "as clear as a bell" for him and his colleagues. But the Freedom Party shares power with the conservative People's Party, who say Austria will not seek to link the issue to Czech EU membership. So is it an empty threat? A question my colleague Rob Cameron put earlier to the Freedom Party's General Secretary for foreign affairs, Peter Sichrovsky.

President Eduard Benes
"I wouldn't discuss the whole issue on the basis of seeing a threat or not seeing a threat. There is a concern within the Freedom Party that this is against all the basic laws of humanity and human rights within the EU, and we don't think a country should join the EU that insists on something which is totally wrong, and is accepted to be wrong by all the countries in the EU, and refuses to change this. We just don't understand the whole situation anymore."

Right, well Mr Westenthaler did say the issue was "as clear as a bell" but it's not really, is it? Looking at Austria, you do have just under half the seats in the Austrian cabinet but your coalition partners, Chancellor Schuessel's People's Party, have already said quite clearly that Austria will not seek to block Czech entry to the EU over the Benes decrees. So where does that leave the Freedom Party?

"Well, also again Mr Schuessel cannot make the comment, it's not about his 'yes' or 'no'. I think the problem now is that everybody speaks about it and nobody really looks into the facts within the EU. This is not about a yes and a no, and it's also not about a threat. The pity is that we are not able to discuss a solution to the problem, we're constantly threatening each other, and I'm not very happy about the situation. I think this is a very bad public relations job the Czech government is doing, and it's not a very nice beginning of a common future in the EU. "

Nevertheless though, the people in power in the European Union, the European Commission, the Commissioner for Enlargement Guenter Verheugen has said as well - look I understand it's a difficult, painful period in history, but the Benes decrees are not going to be a factor in accession talks with the Czech Republic.

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"Mr Verheugen is not in a position to say 'yes' or 'no' as to whether the Czech Republic will enter the EU. He's somebody who gives ideas and makes suggestions and as you remember he constantly changes his mind about the..."

...I'm sorry but doesn't he speak on behalf of the European Commission?

"No, he does not speak on behalf of the Commission. He's one member there and he has an opinion, but the position is not made by him. And as you remember in the past he was heavily criticised in the past for making one mistake after another. So I would not use him to defend the Czech issue here. This is not just the old black and white story of good and evil. This is an issue that has to be discussed, has to be looked at carefully, and has to be solved."

The Freedom Party's Peter Sichrovsky there, speaking to us from his office in Brussels.