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4th Mar 2024

Czech premier calls US economic path 'road to hell'

Only a week ahead of a G20 summit in London where Europeans and Americans are to seek a common approach to exit the global financial crisis, Czech Prime Minister Mirek Topolanek, whose country currently chairs the EU presidency, has described US economic recovery plans as a "road to hell."

Pumping ever-larger sums into the economy is not "the right path" and US President Barack Obama's $787 billion (€578.6 billion) economic stimulus plan and banking bail-out would eventually "undermine the stability of the global financial market," Mr Topolanek told MEPs gathered for a plenary session in Strasbourg on Wednesday (25 March).

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  • Mr Topolanek lost a no-confidence vote in the Czech parliament on Tuesday, but he still speaks for the EU (Photo: European Parliament - Audiovisual Unit)

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

"We need to read the history books and the lessons of history and the biggest success of the [EU] is the refusal to go this way," he added.

Mr Topolanek was speaking in the European Parliament just hours after his government lost a no-confidence motion by a single vote on Tuesday night, although it is likely that the current administration will remain in place until the end of the Czech EU presidency in June.

The force of the comments is amplified because as chair of the EU presidency, he currently speaks for the 27-nation bloc. Moreover, they come ahead of two important international events for the EU, the G20 meeting in London and an EU-US summit.

At the G20 gathering in London on 2 April, the US and the EU will try to cobble together a common approach to solving the global economic crisis.

Meanwhile on Tuesday, UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown, also speaking in the European Parliament, emphasised the strong need for further co-operation with the US, while Mr Obama also called for "co-ordinated international action."

But Mr Topolanek's comments highlight divisions in the EU as to what is the right approach to get out of the crisis.

While the UK supports American calls for additional "worldwide fiscal and monetary stimulus," most EU states, notably France and Germany, do not and insist that the main focus should be put on the need for more financial regulation instead.

At a press conference later on Wednesday, Czech deputy prime minister Alexandr Vondra sought to downplay Mr Topolanek's comments.

"I am optimistic about the G20 meeting regarding the EU and US approaches, that in fact they are converging together and that we will be able to find a common ground. I think it was a total misunderstanding" of Mr Topolanek's remarks, he said.

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

Obama still heading to Prague

Mr Topolanek's comments also came some 10 days before Prague is to host an EU–US summit on 4-5 April – something that the Czech Republic had been vigorously pushing for and is particularly proud of.

But the prime minister said one should not have too high expectations ahead of the meeting.

"The American president is not a messiah," he said.

The leader of the Social Democrats in the Czech Parliament, Jiri Paroubek, who initiated Tuesday's vote of no confidence against Mr Topolanek, criticised his "undiplomatic" comments.

"It is a very strange and curious view of a Czech prime minister whose government was just ousted from office," Mr. Paroubek was reported as saying by the International Herald Tribune.

"In my view, it is also extremely impolite and undiplomatic toward President Obama, who we will host in less than two weeks time," he added.

Meanwhile, the US has confirmed it would attend the summit, despite the fall of the Czech government.

"The president considers his first meeting with the European Union to be an important opportunity to discuss trans-Atlantic co-operation on a broad range of issues," US national security council spokesman Mike Hammer said in Washington.

"The president also is looking forward to deepening our relationship with the Czech Republic and people. The fall of the Czech government is the result of a democratic process," he added.

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