Visegrad PMs meet in Czech Republic ahead of crucial IGC meeting in Rome

Mikulas Dzurinda, Leszek Miller, Vladimír Spidla a Peter Medgyessy, photo: CTK

Prime Ministers of the so-called "Visegrad Four" are meeting at a chateau outside Prague on Wednesday, for talks ahead of the inter-governmental conference (IGC) on the draft EU constitution. The V4 meeting, bringing together the premiers of Poland, Hungary, the Czech Republic and Slovakia, is an attempt to co-ordinate the positions of the four Visegrad countries before the IGC gets underway in Rome. Rob Cameron reports.

Mikulas Dzurinda, Leszek Miller, Vladimír Spidla a Peter Medgyessy, photo: CTK
Four VIP guests were due to arrive at Dobris chateau, around 40 kilometres south-west of Prague, on Wednesday, as the Czech Prime Minister Vladimir Spidla played host to his counterparts from Hungary, Poland and Slovakia. The four Visegrad premiers are meeting in Dobris to fine tune their demands ahead of the crucial IGC meeting which begins in Rome on Saturday.

The IGC will see the twenty-five current and future members of the EU sit down to hammer out the details of the EU's draft constitution - the blueprint for the future of Europe. Smaller countries, Poland and the Czech Republic among them, are unhappy with the draft, and want to renegotiate several key parts of it. They're particularly keen on retaining the "one country, one commissioner" principle: the draft constitution envisages 15 commissioners with full voting rights and 15 "associate" commissioners with little real power, rotating among the member countries.

Mikulas Dzurinda, Vladimír Spidla, Leszek Miller a Peter Medgyessy, photo: CTK
How far the smaller countries get with these and other demands is hard to predict. The EU's larger and more powerful members - chiefly Germany, France and Italy - are happy with the draft produced by the Convention on the Future of Europe, and have warned the small countries that only minor changes will be accepted at the IGC. Germany in particular has issued subtle reminders that it's the big countries which pay for the EU.

And so if the 15 smaller EU nations ("like-minded" they call themselves) have any hope of renegotiating the draft in their favour, they'll have to stick together. That's partly what Wednesday's V4 summit is about - agreeing on tactics and presenting a united front before they arrive at the IGC.

The V4 will certainly be hoping for greater unity than that currently being shown by the Czech Republic. Foreign Minister Cyril Svoboda says the draft is a good starting point for discussion on building a closer Europe. But President Vaclav Klaus says the EU constitution will undermine Czech sovereignty and create a European superstate. And as if to emphasise his displeasure at the direction Europe is taking, Mr Klaus has cancelled his trip to Rome.