With one week to go until historic EU enlargement, Irish PM and President of European Council Bertie Ahern visits Prague

Berthie Ahern und Vladimir Spidla (Foto: CTK)

On Thursday the prime minister, Bertie Ahern, made a short visit to Prague, just a week before the Czech Republic and nine other countries join the European Union. Mr Ahern is also the current president of the European Council, and he addressed the thorny issue of a new constitution for the EU in a speech to the Czech Senate. He also found the time to talk to Radio Prague, about why he had come to the Czech capital, how Czechs could make the most of membership and how optimistic he was that agreement on a constitution could be reached before the end of the Irish presidency of the Union.

Prime ministers Bertie Ahern and Vladimir Spidla, photo: CTK
"I'm visiting Prague today as the President in Office of the European Council. I do so on the eve of the most historic enlargement the European Union has ever known. I feel that it is important that the European Union collectively, through its Presidency, acknowledges this event in one of the accession states. And I thank you, President Pithart, for the opportunity to do so."

The Irish Taoiseach, or prime minister, Bertie Ahern addressing the Czech Senate - and its chairman Petr Pithart - on Thursday. Mr Ahern was in Prague on a short visit just a week before the Czech Republic and nine other countries join the European Union.

But the May 1 celebrations to welcome in the new members are not the only thing on Mr Ahern's mind: Ireland's Presidency of the EU ends on July 1, and Irish officials are keen to see agreement reached before then on a controversial new constitution for the Union.

Breakfast with prime minister, photo: CTK
I spoke to the Irish prime minister, and began by asking him why he had chosen to come to Prague at this time.

"This morning I had the invitation of the Senate to make a speech in one of the applicant countries on enlargement, to set out the Irish perspective, our presidency commitments and what we hope to achieve for the future. And it was a great honour and a great privilege to do that."

It took Ireland a long time to take advantage of EU membership - what advice would you give to the Czechs?

"I think from Ireland's position, before we joined the Union we had fifty years of independence, fifty years of our own sovereignty. Unfortunately, though people worked very hard, we had no hope, we had high emigration, no growth and no prospects. It took us probably about twenty years in the Union to change all of that, so it was relatively short in the history of the country.

"My advice is everything has to be worked on, worked for, but I think the great advantages and the great strengths that a country has within the Union can flourish and grow.

Bertie Ahern and Petr Pithart, photo: CTK
"I think people have to be patient, it doesn't happen overnight, there are no magic wands. But certainly the opportunities that the Union gives a country are enormous. I think people should look at their strengths, develop those strengths and build them for the future."

Obviously you want to get EU constitution done and delivered by the end of the Irish Presidency - how optimistic are you about that?

"Well, we will do our very best, since we've done since the start of the year. I think our plans have gone well so far, but ultimately it's a collective decision of everybody. I think it's for all of us to do as much preparatory work, as much negotiating as possible and hope that - in the end of the day - the political compromise and will is there of all our partners to sign up. And we won't find that out until the European Council in June."