Zeman, Schuessel emerge from bull ring with Temelin compromise

13-12-2000

The prime ministers of the Czech Republic and neighbouring Austria met late into the night on Tuesday for talks on the controversial Temelin nuclear power plant in South Bohemia. Temelin has proved a constant irritant to relations between Prague and Vienna over the past few months, and the dispute escalated sharply in October when the Czech Republic activated Temelin in spite of Austrian fears over safety. But the two prime ministers emerged from Tuesday's meeting with something that looks like a compromise. Rob Cameron has more:

TemelinTemelin The little town of Melk witnessed a historic meeting on Tuesday night: Czech Prime Minister Milos Zeman met Austrian Chancellor Wolfgang Schuessel to hammer out an agreement on Temelin. Austria is a fiercely non-nuclear country that doesn't believe Temelin is safe and wants the plant halted until new safety checks have been carried out; the Czech Republic is a country whose inhabitants are overwhelmingly in support of nuclear power: as most of them have spent the last 40 years choking on sulphurous fumes produced by Communist-era coal-fired power stations.

After months of mud-slinging and border blockades the meeting was long-overdue--the fundamental problem was that the Austrian and Czech governments were both making political capital out of refusing to budge, and the political will for agreement was lacking. But the two men finally sat down to discuss the issue at length, and appear to have come up with a workable compromise.

Prime Minister Zeman spoke to journalists to announce the deal, employing a typically florid metaphor to describe the agreement: Over the next five months, he said, Temelin would undergo an environmental impact study under European Union supervision. At the end of that period would come what bullfighters call 'the hour of truth', when it would become clear who had won the dispute over safety at Temelin: the torreador or the bull. What is important, he said, that the truth emerges as the overall winner.

Mr Zeman himself is often described as bullish, the adjective normally followed by references to a china shop. But for once it seems that quiet diplomacy has won the day. The review of the plant's environmental impact marks a major shift for Prague, which had rejected calls for such an inquiry. Austrian officials said they were assured that Temelin would not begin generating power for the Czech power grid till the inquiry was complete.

Whoever wins this dispute, the toreador or the bull, is now largely irrelevant. The two countries are co-operating again over the issue of nuclear safety, which must be good news for Czech-Austrian relations.

13-12-2000