End-year reflections

27-12-2003

Christmas is over and the end of the year is quickly approaching. This is a time to recap, to reflect on the past year, to try to anticipate what the coming year will bring and to make New Year's resolutions.

I, personally, would describe 2003 as a year of mixed feelings. It started with the inability of the Parliament to elect a new president. Not an easy task, I admit, considering the charisma of Vaclav Havel, who had been Czech president for 13 years after the fall of Communism. But the election of conservative leader Vaclav Klaus with the help of the Communist party left a somewhat bitter aftertaste. However controversial the former prime minister might be, as a notorious optimist, I believe the parliament could have chosen someone much worse, judging from the quality of some pieces of legislation.

In June, Czechs voted in a referendum on EU accession. The turnout of 55 percent was pitiful compared to figures reported from other accession countries, yet it was more than double the turnout in Senate elections later this year. However, it was not until after the referendum that many people realised that the benefits of EU membership are not so clear-cut as presented in the pre-referendum campaign, and that the argument for was sometimes in the sense "we must join because otherwise, the EU might impose trade barriers". We shall see if the government, which pushed hard for the accession referendum, will push equally hard for a referendum on the constitution, if it ever comes to being.

While 2002 was a year of extreme floods, 2003 saw an extreme drought. While some claim this is the ultimate sign of global warming caused by excessive greenhouse gas emissions and deforestation, others cite old chronicles to prove that there have always been floods and droughts. Sounds like common sense to me.

Looking ahead, the coming year will enter history books as the year when the Czech Republic joined the EU, an irreversible move - unless the 25-nation block falls apart due to the inability of its varied members to come to terms. Money, foreign policy - there are many issue that could cause a schism. Politicians should perhaps study history harder to realise that no large multi-national empire in Europe lasted for long.

For Czechs, next year will also mean higher taxes and higher prices in the name of the EU and its single currency. Of course, Czech public finances have been rotten for years - but now, we have an outside factor to blame.

Happy New Year!

27-12-2003