The European Commission also thanked the Czech electorate for voting
"yes". "The Czech Republic takes the place it was always entitled to"
said the Commission's chief representative in Prague Mr. Ramiro
Cibrian. Congratulations have come from the EU Commissioner for
Expansion Mr. Gunter Verheugen, from Greece which currently holds the
rotating EU presidency and from representatives of the European
Both EU members and EU candidates have congratulated the Czech Republic on making "the right decision" and "putting faith in the future of the European Union". The French Minister for European Affairs Noelle Lenoir welcomed Czechs in the EU and said that the return of the Czech Republic to Europe was excellent news for all. German officials called it " a great day for the Czech Republic" and in the Austrian capital Vienna, Foreign Minister Benita Ferrero Waldner welcomed Czechs to the EU with a few sentences in Czech.
The Czech Republic is one of ten predominantly former communist states set to join the European Union next May in a "big bang" eastward expansion. Voters in Poland, Malta, Slovenia, Hungary, Lithuania and Slovakia have already approved accession in national referenda. Estonia and Latvia are to vote in September.
Prime Minister Vladimir Spidla said it was "a historical and fateful vote" but quickly reminded Czechs that much needed to be done for the Czech Republic to join the EU as an equal partner next May. He said that the positive outcome of the vote gave the government, which has a narrow one-vote majority in the Lower House, a strengthened mandate to enact key reforms needed for the eventual adoption of the euro. Foreign Minister Cyril Svoboda said the outcome was a success for all Czech citizens. Although no minimum turnout was required, a fairly strong turnout was important for the ruling coalition which has spent 200 million crowns on a campaign promoting EU membership. Joining the European Union has been the country's main foreign policy goal since the fall of communism in 1989.
Deputy Foreign Minister Alexander Vondra is in Iraq to negotiate the conditions under which the Czech Republic will participate in the reconstruction of that country. Mr. Vondra spent Sunday in Basra where he visited the Czech field hospital which has been serving the civilian population in and around Basra since May. The Czech government is sending twenty Czech experts to Iraq to help restore the country's damaged infrastructure and has appointed a liaison officer for Czech firms which are interested in participating in the reconstruction of Iraq.
The chairman of the Lower House Lubomir Zaoralek has levelled criticism at Czech President Vaclav Klaus, as well as one of the Czech representatives at the European Convention, Jan Zahradil. Speaking shortly before the polls on European accession opened in the Czech Republic on Friday, Mr Zaoralek told journalists Mr Klaus' and Mr Zahradil's stances on the EU showed a 'lack of courage'. Mr Zaoralek also added that he felt 'laments' or 'taking offence' over the future of Europe were hardly beneficial for the Czech Republic. On Thursday it was Jan Zahradil who walked out of the European Convention complaining the agenda had become too federalist. An MP for the opposition Civic Democrats, Mr Zahradil stated the Convention was being manipulated by representatives of the national parliaments.
Czechs have begun voting in a historic referendum on joining the European
Union. Polls opened to the public at 2pm Friday. Among public figures who
cast their ballots early in the afternoon were former president Vaclav
Havel, who all along has indicated his support for the European Union, and
current President Vaclav Klaus, who refrained from indicating this week
which way he would cast his vote. Asked on Friday as he left the voting
booth whether he would reveal his decision at last, the president had this
"Definitely not. You know, I am absolutely sure my vote was the right one, and you may just guess."
Mr Klaus was also asked by journalists how he gauged the importance of the referendum for the Czech Republic overall:
"Well, it's an important moment in our effort to become, after thirteen years a normal, standard European country. In some respects the vote will be part of the whole process."
The polls close on Friday at 10pm local time. On Saturday they will reopen at 8am till 2pm, when final ballots must be cast. Unconfirmed results should be made available almost immediately after polls close. There is no minimum turnout needed for the referendum to be declared valid, but the vote is binding. If a majority of people vote "Yes" to joining the EU, there will be no need for the parliament to ratify accession. In the event of a "No" vote, the government can ask the president to hold a second referendum in two years' time. The latest opinion polls suggest that between 70 - 75 percent of those who come to the polls will vote for accession.
Meanwhile Jan Zahradil, one of the three Czech representatives on the European Convention on the future of Europe, walked out of the body on Thursday complaining the agenda was becoming too federalist. Mr Zahradil, an MP for the opposition Civic Democrats, said the Convention was being manipulated by representatives of the national parliaments. The European Convention will present its proposal for a new European Constitution to EU leaders at next week's summit in Thessaloniki.
Members of the centre-left coalition have been urging people to say "Yes" to the European Union in this weekend's referendum. Led by Prime Minister Vladimir Spidla, ministers in the Social Democrat-dominated cabinet walked the streets and held special press conferences to persuade people to go to the polls. President Vaclav Klaus - often described as a Euro-sceptic - has urged people to vote in the plebiscite, but has refused to recommend EU membership to his citizens. Neither will he say which way he himself will vote.
Polls open at 2pm on Friday, and close at 2pm on Saturday. Unconfirmed results should be available almost immediately. There is no minimum turnout needed for the referendum to be declared valid, but the vote is binding: if a majority of people vote "Yes" to joining the EU, there will be no need for the parliament to ratify accession. In the event of a "No" vote, the government can ask the President to hold a second referendum in two years' time. The latest opinion polls suggest around 75 percent will vote in favour of accession, although a low turnout could reduce that margin considerably.
On Thursday President Klaus received his Slovenian counterpart Janez Drnovsek at Prague Castle, and repeated that EU membership should be viewed realistically and without illusions. Mr Klaus said once again that people must realise EU accession was a marriage of convenience rather than a marriage based on love. He told reporters that while he had not said which way he would vote, he had always tried to explain to people the reasons why the Czech Republic should "eventually" join the EU.
The former president Vaclav Havel is one of the guests of honor at a concert in support of EU accession held at the bottom end of Wenceslas Square on Tuesday evening. The event was preceded by a dispute with the Town Hall which would not allow it to take place on the Old Town Square citing noise pollution. Following a great deal of criticism the Town Hall approved Wenceslas Square as a more appropriate location. Get-togethers in support of EU accession are taking place in several parts of Prague. The Prague 3 Zizkov district is organizing an outdoor event called "Zizkov goes to Europe". Czechs are due to vote on EU accession this weekend.
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