Zeman launches Swedish charm offensive in search of concrete EU date

07-02-2001

As you've just read, the Czech Prime Minister Milos Zeman has spent the last few days on in Sweden, which currently holds the rotating presidency of the European Union. Sweden is seen as firmly pro-enlargement - Prime Minister Goran Persson has made it a priority of Sweden's EU presidency to speed up the accession process. But as Rob Cameron discovered on the icy streets of the Swedish capital Stockholm, not everyone supports Mr Persson's efforts:

Milos ZemanMilos Zeman Most people I spoke to didn't share the views of that elderly man, walking his dog in Stockholm's Olaf Palme Square. The Swedish public are mostly in favour of EU membership and enthusiastic about enlargement. But Mr Persson knows full well that there are voices of dissent in his country - many ordinary Swedes, especially in rural areas, are worried that greater EU integration will cost them their high standard of living, and believe enlargement will lead to an influx of cheap labour from the East. Czech Prime Minister Milos Zeman was quick to allay such fears:

The EU Summit in Nice in December was something of a disappointment for the Czech Republic and fellow front-runner candidates, after the European Union failed to set a firm date for enlargement. The Swedish Prime Minister Goran Persson indicated there was a good chance a date could be announced at this year's Gothenburg Summit, but said it was too early - and indeed counter-productive - to say for sure at this point.
Mr Zeman, however, told me that he remained optimistic:
Following the Czech Prime Minister as he was rushed from investment seminar to press conference, from the Gothenburg shipyard to the seat of the King of Sweden, it became increasingly clear that his relaxed personal style and lively sense of humour was winning the hearts and minds of Sweden's politicians, businessmen and, indeed, the press.
Whether Mr Zeman can turn that easy rapport and good humour into concrete results, as his country strives to join Europe's elite club, remains to be seen. But there were clear indications on the streets of Stockholm that the sceptics were losing ground, and that the Czech Republic could be well on the way to being welcomed as a full member of the EU.

07-02-2001