Germany to hold referendum on EU expansion?

The candidate countries preparing for EU membership, which includes the Czech Republic, have been faced with a great deal of uncertainty over when accession to the EU will take place. Last Saturday, they were dealt another blow. Dita Asiedu explains:

Over the weekend, the Czech Republic along with the 11 other candidates for EU

Guenter Verheugen
membership were hit hard by a comment made by EU enlargement commissioner Guenter Verheugen. In an interview published in Saturday's edition of the German paper Sueddeutsche Zeitung, Mr. Verheugen expressed his personal view that a referendum on EU expansion would be an appropriate measure to see how the citizens of EU countries actually feel about enlargement.

This created concern not only from candidate countries, but also from current EU member states. German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer dismissed the idea, adding that the German constitution would have to be changed for a referendum to take place. Belgian Foreign Minister Louis Michel noted that a referendum would give extreme right-wing groups increased power to oppose enlargement. Extreme right-wing parties claim that enlargement will be followed by a mass influx of cheap labour and organized crime.

In a later interview with Reuters news agency, Mr. Verheugen clarified his statement and explained that he was merely answering a question on whether a referendum could stir up debate about EU expansion, and that this answer was merely his own point of view. I spoke to Ales Pospisil, the Czech Foreign Ministry's spokesman, and asked him what the Czech Republic makes of Mr. Verheugen's statement: Now, although German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer dismissed the idea of a referendum, he suggested that expansion should take place by the beginning of 2005 at the latest. The candidate countries, however, have been counting on 2003. Ales Pospisil once more: