Dr Charles Tannock

Member of the European Parliament for London

Debate on Benes decrees still agile among right wing MEPs

CTK Daily News - 12 March 2003

BRUSSELS/STRASBOURG, March 11 - The debate on Czechoslovakia's post-war Benes decrees continues to stir atmosphere in the European People's Party (EPP) group in the EP and excite mainly its German and Austrian members, as was also proved by a public discussion in the EP today.

The discussion was also attended by Ulf Bernitz, a Swedish professor of law and one of the three authors of an independent expert report on the decrees which was drawn up on the EP's request last year.

On the basis of the decrees issued by then President Edvard Benes, about 2.5 million of ethnic Germans were transferred from Czechoslovakia, mainly the border regions (Sudetenland) and their property was confiscated after World War Two.

Bernitz said in his opinion the decrees are at odds with how European law is viewed now, and they have a discriminatory character. It is not ruled out that their preservation as part of the Czech legal order will have a negative impact in the future, Bernitz said.

However, it would be unwise to prevent the Czech Republic's EU entry because of the decrees, he continued. He said that after the entry, European law would become superior to national law, therefore the Czech membership of the EU could become a key enabling to solve the whole protracted problem with the decrees.

On the contrary, a rejection of the Czech entry would have far-reaching consequences, Bernitz added.

The decrees have been mainly challenged by right-wing MEPs from Austria and Germany, who call them incompatible with Czech EU membership.

Today's discussion of the conservatives and Christian Democrats in the EPP group focused on the November resolution in which the EP asked Prague to make a gesture of regret towards the victims of the post-war expulsion, and on Prague's hitherto negative reaction to it.

The EP rapporteur for the Czech Republic, Juergen Schroeder from the German opposition CDU, called for a balanced approach, for the need to assess the decrees in the context of the period which began by the accession of Nazism in Germany, and as a reaction to the wartime occupation of the Czech Lands by Germany.

Sweden's Per-Arne Arvidsson said he wondered why so much attention is being paid to the decrees, given that mistakes and excesses were occurring all over Europe in the first months after the war.

British Conservative Charles Tannock said he saw the problem on the level of ethic. It would be moral to abolish the decrees although the law does not require this, he said.

Bernd Posselt (CSU), head of the Sudeten German Landsmannschaft association, and several other MEPs pointed to the discrepance between the so called Czechoslovak amnesty law of 1946 and the principles of human rights observance. He said he liked Bernitz's conclusion that the Benes decrees issue should remain open after the Czech entry into the EU.

Passed on May 8, 1946, the amnesty law additionally justified the crimes accompanying the preceding transfer of Sudeten Germans and granted pardon to the offenders. The law prevented the prosecution of people who had committed crimes between September 30, 1938 and October 28, 1945, if their action was aimed either to speed up the liberation process or to retaliate for the Nazi atrocities.