Interview: Czechs to push for ‘Europe without barriers’ at EU helm

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Ensuring the principles of freedom of movement and labour are fully enforced within the EU’s own borders – and most notably between the old and new member states – will be a top priority of the upcoming Czech Presidency of the EU, Vice-Premier and Minister for European Affairs Alexandr Vondra told EURACTIV France in an interview.

The Czech Republic assumes the EU’s six-month, rotating Council presidency in January 2009, placing it between France and Sweden, which will be at the helm in the second halves of 2008 and 2009 respectively. 

Identifying 2009 as an “important milestone for the liberalisation of the labour market,” Vondra said he could “hardly imagine that […] there would still be barriers” on the occasion of the twentieth anniversary of the fall of the Iron Curtain. 

“We would like to see [the four freedoms] fully enforced” as “the EU is the most important area where you can find [them],” said Vondra. 

He wants Germany, and the other western EU member states which set up a transition period following enlargement, to “decide whether to fully open their markets” next year. 

Asked whether the Czech Presidency would be compatible with French President Nicolas Sarkozy’s vision of a “protective Europe,” Vondra said the Czech Republic was “certainly […] a pro-enlargement country” and wanted “to keep the doors open for the others”. However, he conceded that “we can only enlarge the Union if there is enough support among the Europeans themselves.” 

Moreover, he called for a “balanced attitude” towards Sarkozy’s plans for a Mediterranean Union, highlighting the need to “be careful with the priorities of one part of Europe” compared to another. He warned that the French president’s approach could lead to the development of a “Baltic Sea Union” or “Black Sea Union”. 

He rejected suggestions that the French government’s behaviour ahead of its presidency was a source of irritation, stating that “we need France to be among the leaders, so I don’t think [its] communication is too abrasive.” Looking forward to productive cooperation between the two countries, he nevertheless highlighted “different opinions”, for example on the Common Agricultural Policy, where the Czech government was “more liberal” and “in favour of spending more money for science and new technologies”. 

On climate change, Vondra said that the new emissions trading scheme had to be “more effective”, calling for it to be seriously debated as “the devil is in the detail”. He said that the Czech Republic was among the few EU countries to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 20% in the past 15 years, but warned that its potential for renewable energy production was “very limited”. 

To read the interview with Alexandr Vondra in full, please click here

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