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Are we telling the truth about the real price of EU membership?

Op-ed article by the Permanent Representative of the Czech Republic to the EU, Milena Vicenová.

Not long ago, a young person in the audience of a TV debate “Otázky Václava Moravce” asked a rather rhetorical question: are we telling the truth about the real price of Czech EU membership? In his view, “we should count in all costs such as solar power plants, biofuels, lost custom duties, new bureaucrats and guarantees for Ireland and Portugal, and then we would find out that in reality, this costs us about 130 billion Czech crowns a year”.

I have to admit that the question made my blood boil. I have become used to complaints that the European Union “bans” our rum, “forces” down on us lever taps or wrapped donuts, or “makes” egg prices skyrocket – these are all traditional myths. But solar power stations? Biofuels? Being worse off as an EU member?

One can only take a good look when travelling beyond the horizon of the Czech Republic. By the way, it is thanks to EU membership that we no longer need passports for travels in the Schengen area. Do we really see, beyond our borders, solar panels on acres of agricultural soil? Passing through Belgium or Germany on my way home, I most often see solar panels on the roofs of family homes. Who ever made us to place them on valuable farming land? And biofuels? Do we really see endless fields of oilseed rape in Austria, Italy, Sweden or the Netherlands? Plant oil programme (the so-called oleoprogram) and the state-subsidised production of rapeseed methyl ester as a first-generation biofuel were launched in the Czech Republic in 1992. That is four years before we even submitted our application for EU membership. Is the EU even responsible for the infamous „Setuza“ scam?

The only form of Czech „guarantees“ for Portugal and Ireland is the EU budget guarantee that comprises a 1,25 % contribution of the Czech Republic. In the case of Ireland, that is 6,944 billion Czech crowns, and with Portugal, this comes to 8,030 billion – both in comparison with the net gain of the Czech Republic from the EU of 176,148 billion crowns. Moreover, the probability of this guarantee being actually used is extremely small, close to zero.

We do not need to have the same opinion on the position and role of the Czech Republic in the EU. We do need an open discussion. But in that discussion, let us use fair and truthful arguments.

 

Milena Vicenová

Ambassador, Permanent Representative of the Czech Republic to the EU

 

Brussels, 4 April 2012

Foto: Diana Černáková