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Monday, 2 December, 2002, 12:06 GMT
Plum brandy and the 'new Moscow'
Neon heart above Prague castle
The heart remembers 1989, when Prague turned West

EU membership has been a key goal of every Czech Government since the 1989 Velvet Revolution, but the idea has always seemed very distant to the ordinary citizen.

Now, suddenly, it is just around the corner.


People are afraid that after having been ruled from Moscow for many, many years, we will now be ruled from Brussels

Daniela Cervova, EU Information Centre
Before long Czechs, and all those tourists from Germany, Italy and the Netherlands thronging the Old Town Square in Prague, will all be members of the same EU family.

But are they really ready?

"No. I think Czechs can't imagine what the impact of joining the European Union will be," says Daniela Cervova, the director of the European Union Information Centre in Prague.

"People are afraid that after having been ruled from Moscow for many, many years, we will now be ruled from Brussels. They do not understand how the European Union works, so we have to explain it to them and to dispel their fears."

Havel's dream

Recent opinion polls all suggest that these fears have been subsiding.

Czech President Vaclav Havel
Havel: Dream of peaceful co-operation in Europe
Not long ago, Czechs were scared rather than thrilled about the idea of joining the European Union.

Now a clear majority supports EU membership, and the Czech parliament has passed a law paving the way for a referendum on the matter next spring - it will be the first referendum in the country's history.

President Vaclav Havel appeared in parliament for the first time in two years to thank parliament for working on the law. He sees the enlargement of the EU as the realisation of a long-held dream of peaceful co-operation on the continent.

The excitement tends to obscure the fact that the Czech Republic still has much to do.

Brussels has repeatedly criticised the country for alleged discrimination against its Roma minority.

Roma
Roma say they don't want to live in a ghetto
The government insists there is nothing to stop Roma from fully integrating into the rest of Czech society. But its own envoy for human rights Jan Jarab accepts that more needs to be done.

"It is not enough to say that the country itself does not persecute anyone. The country should also protect its citizens from violence by third parties," he says, referring to racially motivated attacks on Roma by right-wing extremists.

"In other words, it is not just what the government does but what it does not do."

Roma desperately need better access to education, housing and employment - though many Czechs say they get what they deserve for having a higher than average crime rate and for harming the Czech Republic's image by seeking asylum in Western Europe.

Indignation

Few disagreements between Prague and Brussels have attracted more attention and more outrage among Czechs, than the suggestion that traditional local spirits - rum and plum brandy - conflict with EU standards.


The battle over rum and slivovice, highly exaggerated by the local media, ended in a compromise

The EU says rum has to be made from sugar cane, not potatoes.

And as far as the plum distillate known as slivovice is concerned, Czechs typically enrich it by pure alcohol during the brewing process, which is not consistent with fruit distillate production norms in the European Union.

The battle over rum and slivovice, highly exaggerated by the local media, ended in a compromise.

All it took was an undertaking by the Czechs to add the necessary information to bottle labels.

Perhaps the road ahead is not that bumpy after all.


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26 Feb 99 | Europe
20 Oct 02 | Country profiles
20 Oct 02 | Country profiles
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