Lower house approves bill on EU membership referendum

The Czech Republic is well on its way to EU membership. Out of the 30 chapters of legislation it needs to close before the end of the year, only five remain open. Furthermore, at the beginning of the month, an EU progress report on the country was better than ever before. So it appears that little can stop the Czech Republic from being among the first batch of candidate countries to join in 2004. There are two things, however, that could throw a spanner in the works - this weekend's Irish referendum on the Nice Treaty, and the lack of a Czech law allowing a referendum on EU membership. Dita Asiedu reports:

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It is almost certain that the Czech nation will be asked to vote on the country's accession to the European Union in a referendum. On Thursday, the lower house approved a bill to hold a referendum in the spring of next year. If approved by the Senate, which is very likely as it drafted the bill, the referendum will definitely take place. Czechs seem likely to vote in favour of membership - the latest public opinion polls show that 53% of Czechs would vote for joining the EU and 25% would be against. The number of supporters is on the rise, whilst the number of opponents has decreased. But they could, of course, defy the polls and vote 'no'. Czech Senator Dagmar Lastovecka:

"If the majority of citizens were to vote against EU membership, then we would have to wait two years before the next referendum could be held. Then the bill on another referendum could be drafted by the government, two fifths of the lower house or the Senate."

Not all MPs in the lower house are in favour of speedy EU membership. Communist Party MP Jaromir Kohlicek, for example, hopes that EU expansion, under the current conditions stipulated in the accession agreement, will not be given the green light. He says accession should be delayed, because Czech officials will not be given the same voting rights or parliamentary representation as their counterparts from equally populous EU member states.

"There is a logic in the attitude of the French government and French presidency. France was EU president when the Nice Treaty was signed and that is why the French are withstanding the change in the number of European parliamentarians for the newly accessing countries such as the Czech Republic and Hungary, despite the fact that they can be compared to Portugal or Greece. That is why it could be favourable not only to us but also to Hungary and it could also be a signal that the Nordic countries, which are in this case represented by Ireland, would like to change the direction of the future EU development as a framework for independent national states."