Mixed reactions to mostly positive European Commission report
The European Commission's annual progress report on the Czech Republic's readiness to join the EU has evoked generally positive reactions on the Czech political scene but - as newsmen jostled to get the first quotes - party politics inevitable came to the fore. Daniela Lazarova has more.
At the very outset there was a general sigh of relief from everyone. After much finger-wagging and repeated warnings from the EU, the Czech Republic was back in the frontrunner group of candidates - meaning those countries whose chances of admission in the first wave of expansion in 2004 are considered very high indeed. However, with general elections due to be held next summer, it was fairly predictable that party politics would come to the fore. The Prime Minister Milos Zeman was beaming as he explained why this year's report is so much better than the last:
"When I and the EU ambassador to the Czech Republic Ramiro Cibrian discussed why the all-important sentences about the Czech Republic being a functioning market economy were missing in last year's report, he explained that it was largely due to the fact that a year ago our banks were still state owned and were not making sound business decisions. I am very pleased that the Social Democrat Cabinet has successfully changed that, enabling the country to take a big step on the road to accession."
The Speaker of the Lower House, and leader of the Civic Democrats Vaclav Klaus recently promised that if his party wins the general elections in 2002 it would negotiate "equal partnership" for Czechs in the EU. It therefore came as no surprise when Mr. Klaus attacked this years EC report as being "a political statement full of inaccurate information and absurdities". He was particularly critical of the European Commission's demand that the Czechs introduce a law on the civil service without delay in order to pave the ground for a smoothly functioning administrative system:
"Individual states have varying civil service rules and regulations and the question whether or not we have a civil service law is entirely inconsequential with respect to our progress and preparedness to join the EU. The EU's insistence on this law shows a complete lack of comprehension with regard to the workings of this country."
The vast majority of Czech politicians accepted the criticism regarding the allegedly high level of corruption and financial crime in the country. However, again their angles on this differ. Senator Josef Zieleniec, who represents the Four Party Coalition in the Upper House, expressed the view that the existing power-sharing deal between the Social and Civic Democrats was partly responsible for the high level of corruption since it gave people the feeling that "everything is possible if you find a way".
President Havel's comments were made via his spokesman Ladislav Spacek:
"It is vital that Parliament approve a civil service law without delay in order to strengthen our administrative sector so that newly approved laws can be implemented in practice as soon as possible. It is likewise important to work on improving the "political culture" in this country, especially in view of the need to fight corruption and various irregularities such as the very high number of government contracts granted without tenders."
According to the CR's chief EU negotiator Pavel Telicka, the country should loose no time in addressing the problems outlined, especially in areas crucial to making Czech legislation compatible with that of the EU. However, in view of next years general elections and the heightened friction on the Czech political scene, this may not prove an altogether easy task.