What does the Irish YES mean for the Czech Republic?
In the follwing text I want to look at the result of the Irish referendum through its consequences on the process of EU enlargement, especially those that affect my country the Czech republic.
906,292 Irish people voted 'yes' to the treaty of Nice on Saturday 19 October, only 534 887 Irish people said 'no'. In the last referendum on the same issue only 453 461 (46%) agreed to the ratification of the treaty, whilst 529 478 (54%) Irish voters disagreed.
Let´s look at the facts. The number of opponents of Nice remains at the same level as in April last year. What has increased is the number of yes votes as a result of lower absention (2001: 65,21%/2002: 50,53%).
Ireland votes for enlargement
When I was in Ireland this summer I spoke with many ordinary people in the major cities and also in the country. On average they told me that last year they voted 'no' because many of them weren't sure that the treaty of Nice wasn´t a threat to Irish neutrality. Some others were afraid of a decrease in European support for Irish agriculture. But there was one thing which the people I met during my three weeks in Ireland didn´t doubt: enlargmenent of the European Union is necessary - and it has the support of the majority of Irish people.
Irish voters opened one of the last gates allowing my country into the EU through their 'yes' to the treaty of Nice. But some gates are still closed - these will now be considered.
The Brussels summit
The main topic of the summit was how to finance enlargement especially concerning the more problematic chapters such as the common agricultural policy.
In general there are two main approaches to the problem: the German one and the French one. Germany wants radical reform of the common agricultural policy, because it contributes the most to the EU budget, yet what it receives in return is lower. This discrepancy is most visible in the example of agicultural policy, which is of greater benefit to France. Germany is calling for lower support for farmers from new countries, partly as a way to reform the common agricultural policy, partly from fear of the competition of Polish and Czech farmers. France disagrees with any reform of the policy not from generosity and love for the new countries, but because the status quo suits it well.
The Czech position in this debate is somewere in the middle. Czech agriculture does not represent a particularly important sector of the economy (unlike in Poland for example). Less than 2% of the population work in agriculture, and the incomes of Czech farmers are far below the State average. In negociation the Czech government only wants the same conditions for Czech farmers as for farmers from the 'old' EU countries right from the day we join the EU. A radical reform of the common agricultural policy is necessary, but without making any distinctions between new and old countries. All countries should be treated equally and all should agree to negotiate a decline in agricultural subsidies from the EU budget. The Czech government agrees we have very weak farming lobby
The rest of the negotiations
Currently only 4 of the 31 chapters of the bilateral negotiating process between Czech government and the European Union are still open. On 24 October, after the Netherlands withdrew their objections, the economic competition chapter was also closed. The Dutch government didn´t agree with Czech governmental support for the metals industry, because they were afraid of a new cheap competitor on the EU market.
Among the remaining chapters, two a problematic: agriculture (see above) and institutions. In the latter chapter there is one specific problem: according to the treaty of Nice the Czech republic lays claim to only 20 seats in the European Parliament. But we want at least 22 seats, as has been given to countries of comparable size (Belgium, Portugal, Greece).
The negotiations should finish in December.
The Copenhagen summit
The definitive decision on which countries will join the European Union should be made in December at the summit in Copenhagen. The Czech government today has no doubts that our country will be among first wave of countries to accede despite so far unsolved problems. There is a strong belief that these should be solved in the very near future.
The European Commision has published an annual report on the preparations of the candidate countries for joining the EU since 1997. Since then we have righted many of the problems we had, and the Czech republic has also accepted the aquis communautaire, but some problems remain.
One of the most complicated issues is problem of the Gypsy minority. This question has gained a European dimension through the mass emigration of Gypsies into Great Britain and some Scandinavian countries. The Czech government and NGO´s are trying to solve this problem, but it will certainly take a long time. The way to improve the social status of the Gypsy minority is through the support of education and employment of members of the Gypsy minority.
The second big problem as I see it is in the slow progress in developing ecological consiousness in Czech society. This is strongly connected with disinterest in the idea of sustainable development among the majority of Czech citizens and politicians. For example, the Green Party in the Czech republic has the support of only 3% of voters. The acceptance of European legislation forced our government to think about these issues in its decision-making process. But it is necessary to internalise ecological thinking throughout Czech society.
In April or May 2003 a referendum will take place in the Czech republic. Czech citizens will answer the question of whether they want to join the European Union or not. Public opinion polls show that the majority of those who intend to take part in the referendum will vote yes (about 60%).
I am an optimist and I hope that the ratification process in the current EU member States will take place without any problems.
It is well known that the process of enlargement does not have very high support in today´s EU countries. More than 50% of those surveyed in a public opinion poll carried out this year were unable to name a single candidate country!
If we want to build a new European idea of cooperation between all European democtratic nations it is necessary to know each other.