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Friday, November 28, 1997 Published at 09:36 GMT


Cook backs Czech EU membership
image: [ The Czech President, Vaclav Havel, welcomes Mr Cook and his message ]
The Czech President, Vaclav Havel, welcomes Mr Cook and his message

The British Foreign Secretary, Robin Cook, has told leaders of the Czech Republic that Britain is firmly committed to opening the European Union to the new democracies of Central Europe.

"There must be no ceiling on the ambition of the Czech Republic to become fully integrated in Europe," Mr Cook said.

"We strongly take the view that negotiations should start first with those countries like the Czech Republic that are most ready for European membership."

[ image: Vaclav Klaus, the Czech Prime Minister, is already expansive]
Vaclav Klaus, the Czech Prime Minister, is already expansive
Mr Cook, who met his Czech counterpart Jaroslav Sedivy, was in the Republic as part of a tour of the countries that are early candidates for membership in the European Union.

He is also visiting Hungary and Poland. All three countries are seen as front runners for full EU membership early next century.

Mr Cook has also held talks with President Vaclav Havel about gypsies who are seeking political asylum in Britain.

From the 12 nations applying for EU membership, Hungary, the Czech Republic, Poland, Slovenia, Estonia and Cyprus are almost certain to succeed.

Hungary gets the message

Mr Cook has already outlined his vision in Hungary. Speaking in the Hungarian Parliament on Wednesday, Mr Cook said allowing former Eastern bloc countries into the European Union is essential to stability in the continent.

[ image: Britain seeking to spread its influence in the east]
Britain seeking to spread its influence in the east
He said: "We want to create a European Union that secures peace and prosperity throughout Europe, one that will welcome the central Europeans back to the European family where they so clearly belong."

But he made it clear his aim is to return to a Europe free of the concepts of East and West.

Mr Cook said: "These are historic times. Europe is undergoing massive exciting change. We are reuniting the Continent, returning to the Europe that our grandparents knew. They would have found the concept of a divided Europe incomprehensible."

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