Verheugen: Let the Blanik Hill warriors rest; Czech sovereignty is safe

Guenter Verheugen, photo: CTK

The European Union commissioner for enlargement, Guenter Verheugen, came to Prague on Tuesday with a simple message: The Czech Republic is now a "full and equal member" of the bloc and must defend its own interests in Brussels — but there is no reason to fear that Czech sovereignty or cultural identity will suffer. Brian Kenety reports.

Guenter Verheugen,  photo: CTK
On the eve of the historic enlargement of the EU to 25 members the Czech president, Vaclav Klaus, went hiking.

According to Czech legend, an army of brave warriors is resting in deep slumber beneath the dark, forested soil of Blanik Hill in central Bohemia. This slumbering army will rise up to defend the Czech nation in its hour of need, if called upon.

President Klaus climbed that very hill the night before EU entry and, precisely at midnight, delivered a live televised speech. The symbolism was hard to miss.

Far from Blanik Hill on Tuesday, EU commissioner Guenter Verheugen spoke to university students in Prague about the benefits and challenges of EU enlargement.

Afterwards, he sped off in a black Mercedes adorned with EU and Czech flags to visit "an old friend", Czech Foreign Minister Cyril Svoboda, who is in hospital recuperating from a neck injury sustained in a car accident.

I went along for the ride and asked Commissioner Verheugen about the issue of sovereignty and the significance of President Klaus' Blanik Hill hike, which the EU commissioner had alluded to in his speech.

Guenter Verheugen and Vladimir Spidla,  photo: CTK
"President Klaus has very clear views. And he likes to present his views in a little bit of a provocative way. But okay, it makes life interesting. Of course it is absolutely normal in a democratic system that we have different views, but it should be clear there is no risk for the sovereignty of the country. There is no risk for the cultural and national identity of the country."

He tried to drive home that view when addressing students of the University of Economics on Tuesday. Without mentioning President Klaus by name, he had told them there was no need to visit mountains and "ask the old warriors to come back".

That EU membership means a loss of sovereignty is complete "nonsense" and talk of a "federalist super state" an invention of the British tabloids, he told the students. "Don't believe it, no matter how often certain prominent people in your country repeat it".

Commissioner Verheugen again.

"The whole idea of European integration is based on the idea that we want to maintain the European nation state, we want to protect the European nation state in its territorial integrity and its national sovereignty."