Czech representatives wage war of words over EU Convention

17-06-2003

Last week, the Convention on the Future of Europe adopted a draft constitution for an enlarged European Union by consensus. At a summit in Thessaloniki this week, it is expected to present its proposal to EU leaders. The draft constitution is designed to allow the EU function more effectively after it expands into Eastern Europe. But do representatives of the candidate countries believe it will work? In the Czech Republic, feelings are mixed.

Forty-six years after the Treaty of Rome establishing the European Community was signed on March 25, 1957, a landmark Convention on the Future of Europe managed to come to a compromise over the first draft constitution for the European Union. At a press conference in Prague on Monday, Senator Josef Zieleniec - one of the Czech Republic's three representatives in Brussels last week - said he was pleased with the convention. He added that for the smaller partners especially, it is important to have an explicit formulation of responsibilities. For Mr Zieleniec, last week's developments were a breakthrough in EU history, as, up until now, the union was based on international treaties.

But Mr Zieleniec also noted that serious compromises and therefore sacrifices had to be made by all representatives in order for the 105-member convention to be able to agree on a joint constitution:

"I objected a lot. Nobody was happy, including me. We came there with our dreams and these dreams were different. So, the fact that we succeeded to create one constitution means that everyone has a problem. For me, it's the shift in the functioning of the European Council, the most powerful body. The fact that the European Council will have its president means that the rotating presidency which was standard in the past will be abolished. This is a painful change, especially for the smaller states, because in the past every state could be in the presidency for at least half a year and create a new agenda for the European Union. Now, it will be more complicated."

But one does not have to go as far as an EU convention to find disagreement. While Mr Zieleniec is happy with last week's developments, Civic Democrat MP Jan Zahradil, who also represented the Czech Republic at the convention, claimed it was becoming too federalist and was being manipulated by representatives of the national parliaments. In opposition to the convention, he walked out on it a day before members were to vote on the draft constitution and before Czechs held their referendum on EU membership. According to Senator Zieleniec, it was an extreme step that most probably did not go unnoticed by the international partners within the Union and could harm the country's reputation. An opinion Jan Zahradil strongly disagrees with:

Jan ZahradilJan Zahradil "I think that what Mr Zieleniec said was quite regrettable. It was misused from his side for a personal political attack and I think that labelling different opinions, especially in such a crucial matter like European integration, smells a little like an old-fashioned type of thinking, a type of thinking before 1989. It's very simple. I represented a minority opinion in the convention. It's necessary to admit that. However, I did not think that it was proper to legitimise the final session of the convention by my presence and therefore to legitimise something I did not agree with."

But in the end it may not be up to the Czech politicians to decide on the convention and its constitution as there has been much talk of holding another referendum, this time on the constitution itself:

"I think that such an important thing should be accepted by the people and we need this discussion. That is important."

17-06-2003