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Czech Republic: Foreign Minister Fails To Agree On EU Mediation With Austria

European Union Enlargement Commissioner Guenter Verheugen and Czech Foreign Minister Jan Kavan met today in Brussels to discuss ways to resolve an Austrian protest over the Temelin nuclear power plant. RFE/RL Brussels correspondent Ahto Lobjakas reports the talks produced no immediate breakthrough. The Czech foreign minister insists his government will not yield to Austrian protests to close down Temelin.

Brussels, 18 October 2000 (RFE/RL) -- Today's meeting between Guenter Verheugen, the EU's enlargement commissioner, and Czech Foreign Minister Jan Kavan produced no outward sign of progress in ending Austrian protests over the Czech Temelin nuclear power plant.

After the meeting, Kavan reiterated his government's earlier position that border blockades by anti-Temelin Austrian protesters contravened EU-Czech agreements and would not be tolerated by the Czech government.

Verheugen said the commission had agreed to an Austrian request to act as a mediator but refused to say what concrete measures were planned to resolve the conflict.

Verheugen repeated the commission's earlier position that, because the EU has no common nuclear safety standards, it has no power to intervene in the dispute. He said the earliest the EU could come to a common understanding on nuclear safety in candidate countries was in December when a EU working group will release a report on the matter.

Our correspondent reports Verheugen seems to support the Czech position opposing the blockades. The blockades were suspended on Sunday for a week to allow for mediation.

Verheugen says while Austrian citizens have the right to demonstrate, the border blockades appear to violate commitments the EU has made to the Czech Republic.

"The free movement of goods is part of [EU law, and] not only for the 15 member states. We have the European Agreement between the Czech Republic and the European Union, ratified [by] 15 member states and the Czech Republic. The provision for the free movement of goods is part of that. Therefore, the Czech Republic is part of the [law] in the area of the free movement of goods. And therefore, I have to underline that, of course, border blockades are not helpful to creating a constructive dialogue and are not conducive to the free movement of goods."

The European Commission has made it clear, however, it can not formally intervene in the conflict unless the Czech Republic submits an official protest.

Verheugen says he will forward Czech concerns to the Austrian government and discuss with Vienna how to best expedite exchanging information on nuclear safety. He says he will also discuss with the Austrian government possibilities of avoiding future border blockades.

The Czech foreign minister gave no sign his government was ready to compromise on Temelin:

"[The] issue of whether a country has nuclear power stations or not is a question of national sovereignty and it depends entirely on the decisions of national governments. And the [European] Commission, or [anyone] one else, can interfere."

Kavan says the Czech Republic recognizes the issue of nuclear safety is a legitimate concern to its neighbors. And he says Prague will continue to provide relevant information on the issue to any interested parties.

But he says if protests on the Austrian border resume, the Czech government will cancel a planned meeting between Czech Prime Minister Milos Zeman and Austrian Chancellor Wolfgang Schuessel. The summit is scheduled to take place in Brno at the end of the month.

Kavan also says he is sure the EU report on nuclear safety standards in candidate countries will find Temelin completely safe. He notes the survey of Temelin was undertaken by German experts.