Wednesday

1st Feb 2023

Czech government defeat raises major Lisbon concerns

The presidents of both the European Commission and the European Parliament on Wednesday (25 March) urged the Czech Republic to proceed with the ratification of the EU's Lisbon Treaty despite the fall of the Czech government the day before, while Czech deputy premier Alexandr Vondra admitted the ratification would now become "more difficult."

"I would like to urge all political leaders not to use this political crisis in a way to make the Lisbon Treaty hostage to domestic problems. That would not be fair to the other countries of Europe," Mr Barroso said at a press conference in Strasbourg.

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  • Mr Topolanek's government was voted down on Tuesday (24 March) (Photo: European Parliament - Audiovisual Unit)

His comments came just a few hours after the centre-right Czech government of Prime Minister Mirek Topolanek lost a no-confidence motion by a single vote on Tuesday night.

The most likely scenario however is that the current government will remain in place until the end of the Czech EU presidency in June.

"I really hope these political domestic developments are not used as a way to put into question the treaty, which was negotiated and signed by this enlarged Europe, by all the 27 member states," Mr Barroso stressed.

"Governments change, that is normal in democracy. Sometimes it happens that one government signs a treaty and another one ratifies [it] ... But it is important to say that there is a responsibility of the state as such," he added.

The Czech Republic, Ireland, Germany and Poland comprise the four countries that have yet to complete the ratification of the Lisbon Treaty.

In February, the lower house of the Czech parliament gave the green light to the document, but it must still pass the Senate and has then to be signed by the country's eurosceptic president, Vaclav Klaus, for ratification to be completed.

'A lot more difficult'

The defeat of the centre-right Civic Democrats (ODS) of Mr Topolanek, the majority party in the Czech Senate, has raised fears that the upper house might reject the Lisbon Treaty.

The February vote in the lower house passed precisely thanks to the votes of a minority of ODS deputies.

"Of course the current developments do complicate the situation ... It is not going to be easy," Czech deputy prime minister Alexandr Vondra (ODS) said at the joint press conference with Mr Barroso and European Parliament President Hans-Gert Poettering.

"Obviously, it will be a lot more difficult now to convince people to vote in favour," he added.

For his part, Mr Poettering highlighted what he saw as Prague's special responsibility in the ratification process.

"From the European Parliament's perspective, it would be a tragedy for Europe if the Lisbon Treaty were to fall in one country, in a country that belonged previously to the Warsaw Pact," he said, referring to the organisation of Communist states in central and eastern Europe that existed from 1955 to 1991.

"I cannot imagine that the Czech people, these 10 million people ... are going at the end of the day to stand against the 490 other million citizens of the European Union ... We have a historic responsibility to see this through," he added.

No lame-duck EU presidency

Speaking in the parliament's plenary earlier this morning, Czech Prime Minister Mirek Topolanek said that the fall of his government should not be considered a reflection on Prague's performance at the EU helm.

"Don't be concerned: The situation will have no impact on the [Czech EU] presidency," he told MEPs.

Mr Vondra subsequently echoed this statement.

"Let's not call this a lame-duck presidency. We are now in day one of a new situation, and we hope that in the second half [of our presidency] our balance will be as successful as today," he said, stressing that his country would remain EU president until July, regardless of the political crisis at home.

The European commission president also backed the Czech stewards of the union.

"A political crisis is normal for democracy," Mr Barroso said, insisting he had "full confidence that the Czech presidency will be a successful one."

Road to Hell or road to somewhere else?

On Wednesday, Mr Topolanek also re-iterated criticism he had made earlier regarding the US economic recovery plans, saying that pumping ever-larger sums into the economy was the wrong approach and that US President Barack Obama's massive stimulus package and banking bail-out would eventually "undermine the liquidity of the global financial market."

"All of these steps, these combinations and [their] permanency is the road to hell," he told MEPs.

Later on, Mr Vondra insisted that the prime minister's comments – made just a week ahead of a G20 summit in London – had not been translated correctly from the Czech.

"I was there and listened to the speech in Czech and he never mentioned the word 'hell,'" Mr Vondra said.

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