Czechs mark 15 years in EU

The country was one 10 to join the bloc on May 1, 2004

The Czech Republic joined the European Union 15 years ago on May 1, 2004, as part of the largest single expansion of the bloc. In total, 10 new countries were added to the 15 members at the time.

Along with the Czech Republic, the other new members were Slovakia, Estonia, Cyprus, Lithuania, Latvia, Malta, Hungary, Poland and Slovenia.

Joining the EU was not a simple task, and approval took years. The process began just after the split of Czechoslovakia in 1993. The European Association Agreement between the Czech Republic and the European Community was signed in Luxembourg in October 1993.

Then-prime minister Václav Klaus submitted the formal application for joining the EU in Rome in 1996 to then-EU high representative Lambert Dini. The European Commission recommended opening accession talks in spring 1998.

Eventually, the EU expanded with 10 newcomers at once. In late 2002, the accession talks ended when the candidate countries agreed at a summit in Copenhagen on the financial conditions for their EU accession.

Czech citizens voted in a nationwide referendum on joining the EU on June 13–14, 2003.

The proposal was supported by 77.3 percent of voters, with a turnout of 55.2 percent.

Opinion polls taken before the referendum showed support between 50 and 63 percent.

A special law had to be adopted to allow for the referendum.

Joining the EU was supported by the Social Democrats (ČSSD), Civic Democrats (ODS), Christian Democrats (KDU-ČSL) and the Freedom Union-DEU. It was opposed by the Communists (KSČM).

The May 1, 2003, expansion is still the largest in EU history. Since then, just three more countries have joined: Bulgaria and Romania on Jan. 1, 2007, and Croatia on July 1, 2013.

At the same time, the UK has been seeking to exit the EU, following a referendum on June 23, 2016. The exit was supposed to have happened March 29, 2019 but has been delayed to Oct. 31, 2019, as the British Parliament has been unable to reach an agreement on how to proceed.

While there have been some mentions of the Czech Republic leaving the EU, the idea does not have widespread support. A poll conducted by agency Median for Czech Radio shows that 64 percent of Czechs think joining the EU has been beneficial, while 30 percent disagree.

Some 80 percent of Czechs appreciate the possibility to work in other EU countries, while 75 percent appreciate customs-free shopping from other countries.

A separate poll by Behavio, STEM and Europeum showed that 56 percent of people were content with EU membership while 11 percent would like to leave right away. A further 27 percent favor leaving eventually if the EU does not undergo reforms.

A recent CVVM poll shows that 52 percent of Czech respondents trust the EU.

Czechs other EU citizens can participate in shaping EU policies by voting in the upcoming elections for European Parliament, one of the decision making organs of the EU. The elections in the Czech Republic take place May 24–25.

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