Will the Czech Republic be ready for EU membership?
The 15 European Union member states have at last set a target date for EU expansion. Candidate countries are to finish negotiations by the end of 2002, the year 2003 will be dedicated to ratification of the treaties with the new members and January 1st, 2004 should see them fully incorporated within the EU. But they will have to have concluded all the 31 chapters required for membership. Olga Szantova has the story.
Of the 12 countries seeking accession to the EU, the Czech Republic and Estonia take fourth and fifth place, having closed 19 of the 30 concrete and one miscellaneous chapters required for membership. Prime minister Milos Zeman welcomed the EU summit decision and expressed confidence that the country would be fully prepared to meet the rest of the requirements for membership and that it would be his cabinet which would lead the Czech Republic into the European Union. With practically two thirds of the chapters closed, and one and a half years to go before the deadline, it would seem that his hopes are realistic. But could it be that the toughest nuts on the path to membership still remain to be cracked? That's a question I put to Jiri Havlik of the Department for the Coordination of Relations with the EU.
Jiri Havlik: I would not say so. Among the 19 chapters we have closed so far there were, according to me, at leas three chapters that I would call really difficult ones, namely the free movement of capital, services and goods, and another chapter that I would name as a sort of break through in negotiations from our point of view was the chapter on environment, which is certainly one of the very difficult chapters. Obviously, what remains ahead of us, among those 11, which still remain, there will be difficult chapters. Certainly the free movement of persons and free movement of labour force, which is a difficulty rather on the side of the EU.
Radio Prague: Is that a stumbling block we will be able to overcome?
JH: Well, that's a good question. The proposal is very difficult for us to accept, because politically it is very sensitive, and our people, our public opinion is very much against the idea that our people will not be able to seek employment outside the country, in EU member states. We will obviously try to make the best achievable result for us.
RP: To come to some other stumbling blocks still ahead, one major one are minority rights.
JH: I do not think there is a stumbling block there, because whilst there is obviously the long term issue of the Roma, the European Union has really recognised that quite a lot is moving in this respect and the issue is not one of treating minority rights, but the issue is really dealing with the social situation of the Roma, which is quite a different thing.
RP: What about judicial and administrative reforms?
JH: Well, this is another area which was actually criticised in the last report of the European Commission. The situation is that our over-all reform of the judiciary is slightly behind the original schedule, but we will be able to satisfy all the requirements of the European Union by the 1st January 2003. There will be only parts of the reform concerned with our internal issues, especially the procedure administration in the judiciary, which will be finished later on. But we do not think that this issue would be a reason for delaying our preparation or our accession to the EU.