Central Europe Review: politics, society and culture in Central and Eastern Europe
Vol 0, No 3
12 October 1998

Andrew Stroehlein C Z E C H   R E P U B L I C :
Making the Same Mistakes

Andrew Stroehlein

Last week, Vienna hosted an international conference on industry and the expansion of the European Union. Worryingly, the government of the Czech Republic ignored it.

In the capital city of the country which now holds the rotating EU presidency, experts discussed the effects of Eastward expansion on the economies of Europe, and every country currently applying for membership of the EU had sent official representatives to this important conference. Every country, that is, except the Czech Republic.

Prague had no government representative at the conference, not even someone from the Czech embassy in Vienna. Every other applicant country in Central Europe as well as Turkey all managed to send high-ranking government officials to Vienna. Why then, was the Czech Republic so notably absent?

It is certainly not that the Czech public is averse to joining the EU. In fact, last week, yet another public opinion poll was released showing that a majority of people in the Czech Republic favor EU entry. It seems that the Czech government is simply not listening to its own people.

The Czech government's failure to have a presence in Vienna is even more inexplicable given that, again in the very same week, the EU announced its intention to begin formal talks on Eastward expansion in November. The signals this new government is sending to Brussels are troubling.

The new Czech government seems to be making the same mistake as the old one: it is treating EU accession lightly. It is saying in effect: "The EU should be only too glad to have us. We need not worry ourselves about the details."

This cavalier attitude is obviously not going to impress anyone from Brussels, and EU Commissioner Martin Bangemann reinforced this last week. Speaking in Vienna, Bangemann said Hungary seemed to be on track for EU entry in 2002 and Slovenia, by 2003, and he emphasized that there was no reason to think that all the applicants would enter at the same time. Perhaps more importantly, he failed to mention the Czech Republic whatsoever when presenting his list of foreseeable entry dates.

The Czech Republic has thus been told quite clearly that it is no longer a front-runner in the race to join the EU.

Although the Czech government had no representative at the Vienna conference, one can still hope that Dr Bangemann's words will somehow reach Prague and that the country takes steps to catch up with its EU-bound neighbors. But the Czech government's conspicuous absence at important meetings is not a very hopeful sign.

Andrew Stroehlein, 12 October 1998


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