European Union accession is now coming up fast - after a ten year accession process just weeks remain before the Czech Republic and nine other candidate countries become members. That's not to say so-called euro-sceptics have disappeared - quite the contrary. With the EU draft constitution far from ratified, and promises like the free movement of labour put for the most part on hold for now - at least for the Czechs - euro-sceptics here may feel they have been vindicated - that their warnings were correct. Jan Velinger spoke recently with economist Petr Mach, the head of the Czech Centre for Economics & Politics, asking him about his feelings on accession and what he thought Czechs would "lose" by having joined the European Union.
"What we will lose is our national sovereignty, in the "legal" meaning of the word. It makes a big difference in our democracy because there will be MPs in our Parliament who were elected to decide about legislation, but there will be about "half" of legislation they will have to vote for. Of course we will have several members in the European Parliament but the basic thing is that they can be out-voted. And of course there is a big difference, for example, in what German members can push through compared to what Czech members in European Parliament will be able to push through. Their strength in this is much stronger."
Supporters of the union would say this is an "acceptable" price to pay for all of the benefits from the European Union: do you agree?
"Um, in fact I don't see many such benefits because, for example, regarding the funding we will probably be net contributors to the EU budget. It's written in our accession treaty up until 2006 - which is the current financial framework of the European Union - there are negotiated amounts of money which we can ask for. These amounts have a "ceiling" that does not necessarily have to be reached. In fact it's not very probable that the Czech Republic will be able to receive all the funds within this ceiling. But what is set for sure is that we have to pay the EU."
Nevertheless, the Czech Republic is a country that suffered under so many years of communism, is it really realistic to think in terms of "just a few years" until 2006? It would take decades for the Czech Republic to recover without joining, why should we expect that there should be an "instant" solution just by joining? It will still be difficult, but perhaps the pay-off will be greater one day.
"Of course, but we don't need the European Union in order to catch up "some day"; to reach the standard of living of EU countries. Over the last 10 - 15 years our standard of living has been increasing steadily in terms of dollars or euros. The question is whether EU membership will help this process or hinder it."
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