Graduating to the EU: a meeting with students from Prague's Jaroslav Seifert High School

Students from Prague's Jaroslav Seifert High School

Hello and welcome to Talking Point. We're coming to you from Jaroslav Seifert High School in Prague and my guests are: David, Petra, Michal, Petr, Veronika, and Stepan. We're gathered here because of course at this moment the Czech Republic has acceded to the European Union. We're here to discuss the students' views, what they expect.

Students from Prague's Jaroslav Seifert High School
Now, I remember when I was 18 or 19 issues that were important for me were further studies, work opportunities, and travel. And these are all things affected by the Czech Republic's being in the European Union. Are they important for you?

Michal: "So, I think there is no problem with travelling now because there are no visas in Europe for us, for work I think we can work anywhere we want from the first of May, but I still think that we are still too young to think about working abroad. And studies, I think there are many, many opportunities to study in Europe, which is the most wonderful thing we can imagine going to the EU."

I have to jump in though, because contrary to what Czechs were told a year ago, it is not going to be so easy to work right away in most of the countries, most have imposed bans before work will actually be possible. But, as you say, it's not really an issue for you yet. Does anyone have a different opinion?

Petr: "I think after accession to the EU it won't be so different because we were taught to try and be the best in our work and we would be able to work abroad. And, for us, or with people with the same education it wouldn't make such a difference whether or not we were in the EU."

Now I'm told by your professor that all of you already have international experience, that you have gone on study weeks abroad, exchanges with other schools. Could you tell me about your experience?

Petra: "Yes, sure. I was on two exchanges, in England and in Germany. I think it was a very good experience to practice languages and to get to other people, from other EU countries."

Do you think though that fundamentally it will make a big difference to have an EU passport?

Stepan: "It depends on our awareness of what it means to be European. Much doesn't change but for our European 'patriotism' it could be interesting."

Do you think that in a way it might have more significance for your parents?

Stepan: "Naturally, they've been living under 40 years of a communist dictatorship, so I think they are looking forward to be back 'in the West'. But, they could also fear a bit for the loss of sovereignty. But I think my parents' see great meaning for the EU and it's the best way for the Czech Republic."

It's an important question of course, do you agree?

Veronika: "Yes. When I think about cultural identity I think that each state will keep its national identity and it will be often heard that 'I am Czech - but also European'. And I think that the Czech Republic is not backwards considering its cultural heritage."

David: "My parents are worried about cultural identity because they remember the ear of the Soviet Union and they feel it's sometimes the same."

Petr: "I wanted to say that my parents are also more sceptical. When I discussed the topic with them they said 'If it was only about me at the referendum I would say NO. But, because of you and your children and the next generations I said YES. As for ourselves, my father said, it won't bring anything good."

Do you welcome the idea that foreigners would come here, buy property and live here and slowly - it's of course a very slow process - change the face of the Czech Republic to make it more multi-cultural?

Petra: "I think that people from the Czech Republic are afraid of immigrants from the east. But, I think if there were people from these countries who wanted to work here, than they are here already, because it wasn't a problem to come to the Czech Republic. And, I think it won't be a big problem with immigrants from countries from the EU."

Petr: "Sooner or later there will be reciprocity, so if I want to go to work in Great Britain then the British will be able to come and work in the Czech Republic. It's normal: I offer something and must be able to profit from equal opportunities from the other side."

Students from Prague's Jaroslav Seifert High School
Veronika: "If the job market opens it will be necessary to offer foreigners the same working conditions."

As we move on to the next topics, I think it's worth speaking briefly about President Vaclav Klaus, who has made no secret of his strong aversion to the EU...

Petr: "I think that when he says that the Czechs will lose their sovereignty it is true to an extent. But, generally speaking it's just if Czech rum will be called rum, or if we will be able to keep our special cheese. It's not that important."

Petra: "It's a good thing that there are politicians in the Czech Rep who say what they think. I also think there are more here than just Vaclav Klaus who are sceptical."

Michal: "It's not necessary to speculate about losing sovereignty: when you sign any international treaty then you of course lose sovereignty. But, if we wouldn't be in the EU, then we would lose the opportunity to try and put our goals across, to try and get what we want."

David: "I think that we lost some sovereignty because a loss of sovereignty is, for example when you give some competence to another court. But, I think that it's necessary."

One of the things that you might have seen last week was a report by Czech Television where they spoke with candidates who are going to be running in elections to European Parliament. And they discovered that many of them are quite poorly off where languages are concerned, primarily English and French. I wondered what you thought about that?

Petr: "I must say that I was terribly surprised when I learned that only about two of them speak really fluently in a foreign language. It was terrible. I think every politician - regardless of whether they want to be in the EP or not, must be able to speak in at least one foreign language."

Veronika: "The Czech Republic still has quite low numbers of university-educated people, I think most only have high school diplomas, and it's not enough.

European identity is notoriously difficult to define. Do you think that a constitution for instance, could bring Europeans closer together?

Stepan: "Well, it could but it depends on what the constitution should be. It could be just something 'symbolic', like the preamble."

Michal: "I wouldn't say it was a real constitution, I would say it was constipation! A constitution should present some general ideas, for example, of the continent, the community - not these 3,000 pages of some laws and very specialised problems."

Some people from the business world are sorry; they felt that if the Czech Republic had remained 'outside' it would have allowed the country to build a unique profile and to dictate its own business terms and relationship with the European Union. Is there anyone here who feels this could have been a realistic possibility, or at least an interesting one?

Michal: "No."

Petra: "No."

Veronika: "No, I don't think so."

One final question remains: the expansion, theoretically, is not over. The next countries in line (besides Romania and Bulgaria) could be Turkey, the former Yugoslavia, and you have countries like Ukraine and Russia, which are undeniably Europe but are now on the 'outside'. How far should European expansion go?

Petra: "I think 25 countries is enough."

Michal: "I don't agree. Countries like Romania are 'in Europe' and I think one day we will have to erase the word 'European'. Turkey is in Europe, and where is the difference between Turkey and for example Palestine? We can not say that 25 states are enough."

Stepan: "If it would proceed towards a united world or world peace - these big ideals could come true, so... let's be open to others and we'll see."