Klaus makes first visit to Brussels as Czech President

Vaclav Klaus and Romano Prodi

Vaclav Klaus made his maiden voyage to Brussels as Czech President on Thursday, for talks with the head of the European Commission Romano Prodi and other senior officials. Mr Klaus - described by some as Eurosceptic and by himself as Eurorealist - used the occasion to air his strident views on EU integration, although he did tone them down somewhat for his European audience.

Vaclav Klaus and Romano Prodi
President Klaus laid on the charm during his brief visit to Brussels on Thursday, a visit dominated by talks with the head of the European Commission Romano Prodi. But while it was all smiles for the cameras, the two men have very different views on European integration. Mr Klaus spoke of his deep concern that the EU - which absorbs ten much poorer countries on May 1st - wasn't putting its money where its mouth was.

"We touched upon a very important point in my opinion - how to reconcile, how to put together the degree of unification of Europe, the degree of European policies, and the size of the budget. Because I have the feeling that there is a sort of asymmetry between those two issues, and it's a task for all of us in the future to find a new balance, to find a new equilibrium in this respect."

But it's not just arguments over money which have soured May's historic enlargement. Each new member has had to nominate its first European Commissioner, and for some countries that hasn't been a very easy task. The Czech government found itself in a highly embarrassing situation, when the cabinet's nominee - former Environment Minister Milos Kuzvart - pulled out at the last minute. In the end the man who negotiated his country's membership, EU ambassador Pavel Telicka, was given the job. Commission President Romano Prodi said for him, the matter was now closed.

"We didn't go back to the process of decision, because it's a Czech problem. Now we have a commissioner, we have a full commissioner, so we start working with him and there's no problem. There's no reason to look back."

While it was all warm handshakes and constructive dialogue in Brussels, at home President Klaus's tone is rather different. Speaking on Czech Radio, he referred to Brussels as the new capital of the Czech Republic. It's comments like those that reveal what the Czech president really thinks about the European mantra of "ever closer union."