More challenges ahead for membership in the EU

The Czech Republic's bid for membership in the European Union is frequently in the Czech media spotlight, as the government strives to meet the EU's accession criteria. The Czechs have now completed fifteen out of the thirty chapters of legislation necessary for joining the Union, but what are the obstacles that lie between the Czechs and EU accession? Nick Carey spoke to Alastair Sutton, who specialises in EU law, and asked him first of all what problems the Czechs have to face in bringing their legislation in line with that of the European Union:

Radio Prague: What are the problems from the European Union's side?

AS: I think with fifteen states it's difficult enough and the European Union does a very good job in running its own shop and then negotiating with the applicant states in the afternoon. I think they are doing as well as they can under terrifically difficult circumstances.

RP: With adding five, ten or thirteen new member states at some point, what is that going to mean for the length of time it takes to pass legislation through the EU?

AS: Is it more difficult to make decisions with twenty sovereign states around the table? Of course it is. It is all very well to have qualified majority voting, that will certainly help. It's better than having unanimous votes, for sure, or vetoes. But it will require, in my view, something that can't be written down, and that is self-restraint. But it's an unprecedented challenge, and I don't know how it will work out.

RP: There is still ongoing discussion about how many new members to take on, when to take them on. How likely do you think it's going to be that by the next European parliamentary elections that there are going to be some new members of the EU, as agreed at the Nice Summit in December?

AS: I don't believe there will be new members by that time. What there might be is members who are ready to join. What I mean by that is that it may be possible to conclude negotiations with some or many of the applicants states by 2004. They would participate in the elections, but accession would actually take place either on January 1st 2005, or 2006. I think there's always a tendency by politicians to overestimate how quickly things can be done, so I am one of those people who think that it's probably going to happen in 2005 or 2006. But if the political will is there in the EC and the applicant states to drive it forward, then it could be done earlier.