Temelin ‘will not delay’ Prague accession, says Czech deputy PM

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Series Details Vol.7, No.40, 1.11.01, p6
Publication Date 31/10/2001
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Date: 31/10/01

By David Cronin

THE leader of the Czech governing party has dismissed Austrian fears over the controversial Temelin plant, claiming that it is "the best nuclear facility" in Europe. Social Democrat head and Deputy Prime Minister Vladimir Spidla said that the station, located near the Czech border with Austria and Germany, would be "supervised so stringently" that it could not be used as an argument to delay Prague's accession to the EU.

Last weekend Chancellor Wolfgang Schüssel warned that Vienna would prevent the Czechs from closing the energy chapter at the enlargement talks unless it gave a binding pledge that Temelin would meet EU safety standards. Visiting Brussels on Monday (29 October), Spidla told European Voice that his government would honour its commitment to provide all the documentation sought under the so-called Melk process on the plant's environmental impact. Enlargement Commissioner Günter Verheugen has urged both Vienna and Prague to complete the process by mid-November.

Meeting both Verheugen and social affairs chief Anna Diamantopoulou, Spidla also raised the problems besetting Ostrava, a disadvantaged region in his country's north-east. The European Commission, he said, had given him assurances that it understood the need to provide financial assistance to the area's flagging steel industry, in spite of EU rules restricting state aid.

As part of restructuring efforts, half of Ostrava's 50,000 steel workers would be laid off. "The commissioners voiced concerns that we may try to keep alive some ineffective plants," he added. "But I assured them that we are mainly interested in providing efficient jobs for the region."

Alternative employment plans are already reaping rewards, according to Spidla. Last year 7,000 lost their jobs in the region but a large number have already found work in foreign companies which have invested there. These include electronics giant Philips and sports goods manufacturer Shimano.

Opinion polls found that support for Prague's minority government has risen from just 20 in early 2000 to 36 in late July this year. This has buoyed Spidla's optimism that it will be returned to power following the general election due in June 2002.

He does not believe there is a strong chance of former premier and outspoken Eurosceptic Vaclav Klaus being part of the next administration. But if that situation does arise, he predicts it will not have adverse consequences for the country's EU membership bid as Klaus's right-leaning Civic Democrats would probably have to form a coalition with pro-Union parties.

Spidla also said the future of his government's policy of imposing a visa on Romanians crossing the Czech border would hinge partly on EU decisions. The Commission's top enlargement official Eneko Landaburu said recently that there was a possibility the EU justice ministers could waive the visa requirement for Romanians entering the Union's existing states at their December meeting.

The Czech ruling came into effect at the beginning of October, following a sharp rise in the number of Romanians who are emigrating there.

Report of visit by Czech Republic Deputy Prime Minister, Vladimir Spidla to brussels, 29.10.01

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