Ramiro Cibrian - EU ambassador to Prague

Ramiro Cibrian

Rob Cameron's guest on this week's One on One is Ramiro Cibrian, head of the European Commission delegation in the Czech Republic and EU ambassador to Prague. Their conversation takes in the miracle of mastering Czech in three years, where an ambassador goes to get away from the stresses and strains of work, and getting used to the meat and dumplings of Central Europe after the tapas and paella of Spain. Rob began by asking Ambassador Cibrian about the pros and cons of being one of the country's most senior diplomats.

"Well, one of the clear advantages is that, of course, you are given all sorts of facilities for your professional life and for your personal activities by the host country. Which, I have to say, are important to me only to some extent. I think that what is much more important is the possibility to contribute from the delegation of the European Commission to the fascinating work of cooperating with the Czech authorities, with the Czech people, in the preparations on the way to membership of the European Union."

Is there anything about the job which you absolutely dread, which you cannot stand?

"No, I don't think there's anything I dread. There I things which I like more, and there are things which I like not so much, but there is nothing that I am not prepared to do if it is necessary to do it for the sake of the job."

Is Prague seen as a real plum job among diplomats? One of the best jobs going? I mean, it's probably better to be here than, say, Warsaw, Bucharest.

"Or other places maybe, in Asia, Africa or America. Well, there is no question that Prague is one of the most beautiful cities in Europe. I have to add one thing. Again, the European Commission, my colleagues who work in external relations, we are in a very particular situation, because the Commission hasn't got a delegation, hasn't got "embassies," inside the Union. Of course, at the present time, when we haven't yet had the enlargement, there is no question in my view that Prague is one of the most important and, if you like, most attractive positions. But, as I say, it is one position that will cease to exist in 2004. In 2004, for the European Commission, and for the external relations of the European Commission, Prague will no longer be any sort of plum job, simply because it will be inside the Union and we will not have a delegation here, we will not have anybody with diplomatic status. But yes, due to the history of the Czech Republic, the European Union did not have diplomatic relations with the former Czechoslovakia until the end of communism, so that means that it as a delegation that has been a plum job with a short life, only since 1992 when the delegation was opened, until the year 2004, when it will be closed - if everything goes according to plan. It has been a plum job, but a short-lived one of twelve years, and I consider myself privileged to have been one of the ambassadors of the European Commission, to have had the privilege to work in this beautiful city and in this beautiful country."

Tell me, in this beautiful country, where do you go to escape, to relax? Where is your favourite place, do you think, in the Czech Republic, to get away from it all?

"I think I escape in Prague. As a matter of fact, I travel around the country extensively, due to my professional obligations. And I like it very much. I know the country, I believe, pretty well. Certainly I know the country perhaps better than I know Spain or the Basque country, because I have had - due to the professional requirements etc - I have had the possibility to travel very extensively to tens - if not hundreds - of Czechs cities and towns. And I like them very much, and there are many places which I know well in Sumava, Krkonose, Moravia etc, which I visit with great pleasure. But I have to say, I find the places for relaxation, I found them in Prague. Maybe I take my bicycle and I go to Sarka, or I play tennis here at the delegation, because we have a court, with my wife, or simply I go downtown to the movies. Those are the ways in which I relax in Prague itself."

Now a question which will test your diplomatic abilities to the full. You come from a country - Spain - which is known for its culinary skills, its fantastic foods, tapas and paella and so on. The Czech Republic possibly does not compare in the same way. What was it like for you getting used to Czech food, meat and dumplings?

"Well, I like all kinds of foods. I am prepared to eat and to enjoy all kinds of food. You know, in a sense, food is not that important for me, and I am able to enjoy all kinds of food."

Even the svickova and dumplings?

"Of course. As a matter of fact, I like Czech food, and I eat it regularly. Here in Prague, of course, you have the choice: you can go to a fancy restaurant, you can go to an international restaurant. But, as I said, I spend a very significant part of my time around the country. Yesterday, for example, I went to south Bohemia - we were in Ceske Budejovice, and we were in Trebon - and we had the famous carp from the Czech Republic. So we had excellent fish, and we also had very good dumplings in Trebon. I always have a good appetite, and I am prepared to eat all kinds of food, and that has not been a problem. I like Spanish food very much. I come from the Basque country, and in the Basque country you can find the best cooks in Spain. In the south you can eat fantastic fish and seafood. You know, what I would like to tell you is that eating for me is never a problem. It's just a means to do other things in life. It's not a goal in itself."

Tell me, how did you manage to learn Czech so quickly? A lot of people I've met were amazed at the standard of your Czech in such a short period of time?

"Well, the honest reply is that I studied regularly and that I have very good teachers. Then if you make the effort... The problem with Czech is that it is a language that does not come to me - as a Latin person, as a person coming from southern Europe - it does not come easily. Czech is something that either you study, or you do not know it. And then I have made a certain effort to study here. Of course, this is the best environment to study Czech, and I have had the luck to have excellent teachers, excellent professors, who are patient and who have given me the appropriate hints etc. And, by the way, it's not a short time: I have already been here almost four years, and I started to study when I arrived. Gradually, perhaps it has improved. But let me say, it's something - I wouldn't say like advanced mathematics - but certainly it is a subject that you have to study. It's like civil law or mathematical physics and so on. If you study, you know it, if you don't study, you don't know it."

When the Czech Republic and the other candidate countries join the Union, there is going to be a huge demand for translators and interpreters and so on. Can you imagine the nightmare of the number of languages involved in typing up EU documents? You're going to have to have translators who can translate from Czech to Irish. Where are you going to find these people?

"No, I think the problem is already with us. Today, of course, the amount of documents that need to be translated, the conferences that need to be interpreted, are already huge. But of course, there is a pool of interpreters and translators that has existed always in the Czech Republic, and that of course has Czech as its mother tongue. And already since some time ago, since a number of months, if not years, the Brussels institutions have been recruiting interpreters and translators in the languages of the future member states. Let me say that it is possible to translate a document from Czech to Irish. You can do it, the point is that both translations, interpretations you can do it through a third language, in this case through English. So there are plenty of people who will be able to translate from Czech into English, and I imagine there will be a sufficient number of people that can translate from English to Irish. So, yes, there are techniques of course that will be used in order to solve the problem that is posed, the challenge that is represented, by so many official languages inside the European Union."

The year 2004 is most often mentioned as a realistic date when the Czech Republic will join the Union. Looking now, at the end of 2002, how optimistic are you that this is going to happen?

"I am fully optimistic. I think that barring major unforeseen events, barring a catastrophe, I think that all the conditions are at hand so that the Czech Republic could join the European Union as a full member country in the first half of the year 2004."

Ambassador Cibrian, thank you very much.

"Thank you. Thank you for your questions."