Travelling to Brussels and back and never leaving home

15-05-2004

This Letter from Prague is my first as an EU citizen. In fact this is not my only first this week. On Monday I made my first trip abroad as a citizen of a European Union member state. Of all places, I travelled to Brussels.

BrusselsBrussels It was not a holiday, though. I was one of the journalists accompanying the Czech prime minister on his day trip to the EU capital, where he opened an exhibition at the Czech Republic's Permanent Representation and later held a speech in the European Parliament.

Of all the things that were going to change for us after the Czech Republic's accession, I had been particularly looking forward to one specific privilege. Walking smoothly through the passport control under the sign "EU citizens" and not having to queue along with the other unfortunates in front of the sign saying bluntly "Others".

But as I was travelling to Brussels on a government plane, I was denied that little satisfaction. We walked straight from the airport building to the small Soviet made Yakovlev jet and in Brussels cars were waiting right on the tarmac to take the Prime Minister and the rest of us rushing along the streets of the Belgian capital, breaking several traffic rules at a time.

The day was like a movie on fast forward. All I saw of Brussels was a few streets as we walked from the Czech representation to the magnificent steel and glass buildings of the European Parliament.

Strangely, all the time I felt I had never left home. Surrounded by my Czech colleagues, interviewing Czech politicians, eating Czech food at the reception, thinking about the report I was going to write back in my office the next day.

European Parliament, Photo: European CommissionEuropean Parliament, Photo: European Commission And that weird feeling of familiarity did not leave me even when my colleagues and I arrived at the European Parliament. The whole place is being renovated now to accommodate the representatives of twenty-five instead of fifteen countries. The Parliament is one large building site - very much like my native city. But when my feeling of deja vu became really intense was when we tried to get our accreditation for a late afternoon press conference in the parliament.

We arrived an hour earlier and it proved a good idea. In the building where all speeches and documents are being translated into the twenty official languages of the European Union, the lady at the press reception - god bless her - would refuse to speak to us but in her native French. Fair enough, I thought, and racked my brain looking for the remnants of my high school French. Luckily, it was enough to explain to her that it was not our fault that our press cards did not have expiry dates printed on them - that specific EU regulation must have been missed out during the harmonisation process. Then we needed to show our passports to prove we were the same people as our press cards claimed. And third time lucky we had to produce our Czech ID cards for the receptionist to take down our addresses.

Eventually the lady issued a shiny new press badge for each of us, complete with a photo. The whole procedure took a good thirty minutes.

Thinking of all the red tape I have to encounter almost every day in my home country, I remained calm and composed. My first ever trip to the EU capital as an EU citizen - and it feels just like home. I thought: what more could I wish for...

15-05-2004

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