The European Commission released its final report on the ten candidates to join the European Union on Wednesday. The Commission said all ten would be able to join the Union on May 1st, 2004, but warned of serious shortcomings which would deny new EU countries the full benefits of membership if left unresolved. Well joining me to go through the Czech Republic's report card is my colleague Rob Cameron - was it top marks for the Czechs, Rob, or more a case of "See me after class"?
Somewhere in between. The Czech Republic is certainly no star pupil; the class swot remains Slovenia. But neither is it heading for detention, like Poland. The Commission outlined four areas of concern, putting it on a par with Slovakia and Hungary. It said Czechs must improve food safety, pass legislation to allow for mutual recognition of university diplomas and other academic qualifications, upgrade laws on transport and speed up reforms of pensions, social benefits and health care. The Commission also said corruption remained a problem. So "good progress but could do better" would sum it up nicely.
Right, and has the Czech government taken these criticisms on board?
Yes, but it's also tried to play them down, saying there'll be no difficulty in ironing out the problems in time for accession on May 1 2004. As far as the first item on the agenda is concerned - food safety - the government said all companies that do not meet the EU's public health standards would be closed down by January 1st. Prime Minister Vladimir Spidla said the report was more or less what he expected and pledged to resolve all outstanding problems in time, comments that were reiterated by the Foreign Ministry.
What happens if those problems are not resolved by May 1st?
Well, as we mentioned earlier, the Commission said none of these problems were serious enough to prevent any of the ten - including Poland - from joining the EU on May 1st.. That said, if they're not resolved, the new members could face difficulties almost immediately. So if the Commission is not satisfied with food hygiene in the Czech Republic, for example, Czech meat producers might not be able to export their products to other EU countries.
So these final reports by the European Commission are really aimed at removing as many problems as possible so that EU enlargement goes off smoothly.
Exactly. The Commission is determined that the enlargement process should take place on time, with a minimum of problems. So issuing these report cards is a really way of encouraging its pupils to revise just that bit harder for May's big exam, although in reality it's already been decided that they're going to pass it.
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