Deputy foreign minister: small EU countries not "ganging up" on big ones

02-10-2003

Prime Ministers of the Visegrad Four - Poland, Hungary, the Czech Republic and Slovakia - met at Dobris Chateau outside Prague on Wednesday, ahead of the inter-governmental conference (or IGC) on the future of Europe. The Visegrad Four are part of a much larger group of countries unhappy with the terms of the draft EU constitution to be discussed at the IGC, which gets underway in Rome on Saturday. The Visegrad Four agreed on a number of key demands they want to table in Rome, chief among them being the "one country, one commissioner" principle. Rob Cameron spoke to Jan Kohout, deputy Foreign Minister for European Affairs.

From left to right: Peter Medgyessy, Vladimir Spidla, Mikulas Dzurinda a Leszek Miller, photo: CTKFrom left to right: Peter Medgyessy, Vladimir Spidla, Mikulas Dzurinda a Leszek Miller, photo: CTK "This group of states is not ganging up or creating any specific firm bloc against the others, it's very, very open. One of the main reasons why they gathered together was the proposal for the President of the European Council, and now you can see that this group of states has already accepted the idea of a President of the European Council, and this tells us that this group of states is very flexible, it's ready to make compromises. And on the other hand, this group of states also expects other countries will make some compromises or will be flexible too."

You have your list of demands, or rather list of priorities for the IGC in Rome. What happens if the big countries - Germany, France, Italy - just steamroll over your objections to the EU constitution?

"It's too early to say what would happen. We're just a few days before the start of the IGC, so it wouldn't be proper to say now what the reaction would be. I expect that the spirit of the Convention [on the Future of Europe] which was very consensual will also prevail at the IGC. It's clear that all the countries wish to have a successful IGC."

Some countries have already said they will put the EU constitution to their citizens in a referendum, but that of course could backfire. If one or two referendums fail, then the EU constitution is dead. Do you also see that as a risk? Do you think the Czech people should decide on the EU constitution?

"We think there will be a broad political discussion on how to ratify this constitution. What is clear is that those ratification processes will be according to the parliamentarian rules or the constitution rules of each specific country. So there will be no one date for all countries and no one specific way how to ratify the constitution."

02-10-2003