Pithart visits Ireland; EU expansion on agenda

The Chairman of the Czech Senate Petr Pithart is presently on a three-day visit to Ireland, only a matter of weeks after the Irish people voted against the proposed expansion of the European Union, Peter Smith reports.

The lessons to be learnt from the Irish referendum were high on the agenda during Mr. Pithart's meeting with the Irish Prime Minister Bertie Ahern in Dublin on Tuesday. However, as Czech Radio's Miroslav Konvalina explained on the line from the Irish capital, the expansion question certainly doesn't dominate relations between Prague and Dublin.

"There are so many ongoing contacts between the Czech republic and Ireland at all different levels. We had some 40 deputies from the Ostrava region last week here, and next week, the Minister of foreign affairs, Brian Cowen, is going to Prague. In autumn, there will be a visit by Premier Bertie Ahern in Prague, so there are very close contacts and both the current and former Irish presidents are good friends with Czech president Vaclav Havel. The contacts are very rich and fruitful."

Regarding the Irish no-vote on EU-expansion, Mr. Pithart told reporters that it was a demonstration of how the normal person on the street is failing to understand the language of Brussels. The Irish rejection of the expansion process would, he believed, force the EU leaders into adopting clearer and more direct lines of communication with the people. Miroslav Konvalina again:

"Mr. Pithart already said that what happened in Ireland is very useful because there is something wrong between European citizens and European institutions and something has to be done and maybe it's very important that it happened just now and in Ireland, because this is the country where the European Union enlargement is big success and a positive example."

There will be a second referendum in Ireland - probably some time in Autumn 2002. According to Miroslav Konvalina, confidence is high that with a proper open debate and discussion forum on the issue, the Irish will eventually clear the way for the ratification of the Nice Treaty.

"People are not against enlargement. The problem is Irish neutrality, the last-minute call from no-vote campaigners, that was that we are losing money, power and freedom. But we had a hard time to find one politician or one man on the street who would say 'I am against enlargement'. Everybody I met here is for enlargement."