Start of new era for Czechs as historic treaty signed in Athens

EU enlargement treaty in Athens - Vaclav Klaus and Vladimir Spidla, photo: CTK

"This is the beginning of a new chapter in our country's history." The words of the Czech Prime Minister Vladimir Spidla as he and President Vaclav Klaus put their signatures to the EU Accession Treaty during Wednesday's Athens summit. If all goes well the Czech Republic and nine other countries will become members of the EU in just over a year's time, on the 1st of May 2004. Radio Austria International's Kerry Skyring is in Athens covering the summit - earlier we asked him what the mood was like in the Greek capital.

EU enlargement treaty in Athens - Vaclav Klaus and Vladimir Spidla, photo: CTK
"The police were out, riot police were out, I'm not sure we're going to see too many more demonstrations and clashes similar to those that took place on Wednesday here, but certainly the security is there. But if we're talking about the major event of this summit - the signing of the accession treaties and the meetings of the leaders - that's certainly winding down now."

And it was a ceremony steeped in symbolism, it took place below the Acropolis, the birthplace of democracy if you like. EU ceremonies have a tendency to be rather overblown affairs - did it really feel like history in the making to you?

"Yes it did. I think the Greek presidency of the European Union handled it well, they gave it the necessary gravitas and as you said the symbolism of this place, where concepts of democracy were born in a building which was erected 150 years before Christ. All of that was handled very well, and certainly in the words that people spoke, the sense that this was an historic occasion was certainly there."

Was there any hint of the tensions between EU members, and potential members over Iraq? There has been some suggestion that big EU countries such as France and Germany might seek to punish those new members who supported the US over Iraq.

"Well the Greek presidency billed this as the Unity Summit and from my observations I'd have to say that they managed that. They managed to keep the differences that are obviously there under control, and even before the summit started we saw the French and the German leaders making conciliatory moves. So at least on the surface the European leaders here presented a unified front, even if under the surface many differences still remain."

The Czech President Vaclav Klaus was quoted as saying earlier this week that EU membership was a marriage of convenience rather than a marriage based on love - did he seem a bit more enthusiastic about the EU in Athens?

"I watched his speech, I thought he was perhaps a little less involved in the momentous occasion that many others saw it as, he didn't quite paint it that way. But he certainly acknowledged that this was good for the Czech Republic and good for the European Union. He probably takes the view of many, that it is a marriage, it is a family, but there will be fights within the family, and perhaps he's a little more pragmatic about that."

And that was Radio Austria International's Kerry Skyring speaking earlier to my colleague Rob Cameron. And to hear a full report from the summit, don't forget to tune into to this week's Insight Central Europe on Saturday.