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Tuesday, 21 August, 2001, 14:25 GMT 15:25 UK
Skoda trip for Schroeder
Gerhard Schroeder at Skoda factory
The car's the star: Schroeder admires production line
The German Chancellor, Gerhard Schroeder, has praised the Czech Republic for its efforts to prepare for membership of the European Union.

His comments came as he visited a Skoda factory, during a one-day excursion into the republic from his two-week tour of eastern Germany's border areas.

The Czech Republic will be in the first group that join the European Union

Chancellor Schroeder
The Chancellor, who is using the tour to boost support for EU expansion, said the Czech authorities had placed themselves in pole position for membership.

"The Czech Republic will be in the first group that join the European Union," he said.

"The republic has made good progress in the negotiations. It is good to do as much as possible to prepare its industry in the pre-entry phase."

No more jokes

The Skoda plant, now owned by Volkswagen, is seen as one of the most successful examples of German investment in a former communist country.

When Volkswagen took over the Skoda factory in 1991, the cars made there were the butt of countless jokes in the West, a byword for unreliability and ugly design.

Since then, the company has been transformed. In the first six months of this year, worldwide sales have risen by 17%.

Mr Schroeder was also due to meet Czech Prime Minister Milos Zeman.

Temelin nuclear plant
Czechs resent German interference over Temelin
Contentious issues thought to be on the agenda include the controversial Temelin nuclear plant.

Mr Zeman was earlier reported to be angry over German criticism of the plant, regarding it as meddling in their internal energy policies.

The issue free movement of labour after EU expansion could also prove tricky.

Mr Schroeder wants citizens of new EU member states to be denied the right to seek work in other parts of the union for seven years after expansion takes place. The Czechs say that is unacceptable.

See also:

14 Aug 01 | Europe
Schroeder sells EU in the east
14 May 01 | Europe
EU deadlock on workers' rights
07 May 01 | Europe
Schroeder's European vision
18 May 01 | Europe
Schroeder's EU plans explained
24 Feb 00 | UK
Skoda has last laugh
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