Two days of celebrations have begun across the Czech Republic marking the country's accession to the European Union on May 1st. EU flags are flying on buildings and institutions in all Czech towns and cities and the two day celebrations include open-air parties, concerts and fireworks displays. The celebrations will climax at the stroke of midnight when the Czech Republic together with 9 other countries will become a full member of the European Union. The biggest expansion in the EUs history will swell its ranks to 25 nations and its population to 450 million.
At a press conference in Prague on Friday Prime Minister Vladimir Spidla hailed the Czech Republic's entry to the EU as a historic moment, telling Czechs the country would profit from EU membership. We will not lose our sovereignty, it will be enhanced and we will share it with the remaining 24 states, the Prime Minister said, pointing out that as an EU member state the Czech Republic would be in a better position to defend its interests and mould European policy. The Prime Minister described the EU enlargement as "a definitive end to the division of Europe".
Labour and Social Affairs Minister Zdenek Skromach has confirmed that workers from the enlarged EU will face no restrictions in the Czech Republic. Minister Skromach said that that the country would welcome all EU citizens who wish to live and work here, but that it would take steps to prevent people from abusing the country's social system and security benefits. Of the present member states only Britain, Ireland and Sweden have opened their labour markets to the ten newcomers.
A bomb threat led the authorities to close two border crossings between Germany and the Czech Republic on Friday, just hours before the historic enlargement of the European Union. For four hours police with sniffer dogs combed two crossings near the town of Rozvadov without finding anything suspicious. The closure resulted in long cues on both sides of the border. Police are investigating the bomb threat. Meanwhile, security is tight at the German border town of Zittau, where German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, Czech Prime Minister Vladimir Spidla and Polish Prime Minister Leszek Miller are due to attend the festivities on Saturday.
A bill stating that the former president Edvard Benes made an outstanding contribution to Czechoslovakia, is to become law. Edvard Benes was president just before and after the Second World War. The bill has divided the Czech Lower House and the Senate, with the latter strongly opposed to it. It has also evoked strong criticism in neighbouring Austria and Germany where some politicians have described it as a slap in the face to the 2.5 million ethnic Germans who were forcibly expelled from post war Czechoslovakia under decrees issued by Benes. President Klaus decided he would neither sign, nor veto the bill, saying that he believed each citizen should be allowed to form his own opinion about historical events.
A commemorative ceremony marking the 100th anniversary of the death of the famous Czech composer Antonin Dvorak was held at Prague's Visehrad cemetery on Friday afternoon. The ceremony was attended by leading cultural and political figures and followed by a mass served by Cardinal Miloslav Vlk. Antonin Dvorak was hailed as the most famous composer in Czech history -and possibly the most famous Czech personality of all time. His best known work the New World Symphony accompanied Man's first steps on the Moon.
The weekend is expected to be bright and sunny with daytime highs reaching 24 degrees Celsius. Some scattered showers are expected on Saturday but temperatures will remain high and meteorologists say there is no probability of persistent rain.