Saturday

17th Aug 2019

Prague faces head-on clash with pro-EU constitution camp

  • Prague's "starting position" on the constitution is diametrically opposed to that of Berlin (Photo: wikipedia)

The Czech Republic has emerged as a key opponent of the German EU presidency's plan to revive the European constitution, with its newly appointed negotiator Jan Zahradil telling EUobserver that Prague seeks to curb EU powers and re-open core parts of the charter.

Mr Zahradil, who was recently picked as the personal negotiator on the constitution of the new Czech centre-right prime minister Mirek Topolanek, said that "a new text is necessary" after French and Dutch voters in 2005 "vetoed" the EU constitution.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Support quality EU news

Get instant access to all articles — and 18 year's of archives. 30 days free trial.

... or join as a group

The Czech PM's appointee - who also serves as a centre-right member of the European Parliament - is known as an opponent of far-reaching EU integration, promoting an alternative "Europe of Democracies" as the constitution was being drafted in 2003.

"I am here to find a constructive outcome but at the same time I am not ready to agree to everything that the German presidency is proposing," Mr Zahradil stated, referring to German chancellor Angela Merkel's efforts to salvage the bulk of the constitution.

"That would not be any good, not for my country, nor for the EU. What is now desirable is critical reflection on the current state of the EU."

All EU leaders were asked by Berlin to appoint so-called "sherpas" - appointees for confidential talks on the constitution - with Mr Zahradil so far being the only sherpa combining his job with that of an MEP.

The Czech sherpa directly challenged calls by Berlin to preserve the "substance" of the existing text - meaning the constitution's key institutional reforms and the inclusion into the text of the EU's charter of fundamental rights.

Curb on EU court

Asked what should be done with major institutional innovations proposed by the constitution - such as an EU foreign minister, a permanent EU president, and the removal of vetoes in justice matters - Mr Zahradil signalled that Prague would seek modifications.

"I think they [the reforms] should be discussed but right now it is too early to say which one of them should be deleted. This will be a question in the negotiations."

Mr Zahradil sees particular problems in the EU's charter of fundamental rights, which would get legal status as part of the EU constitution (currently it is a non-binding document.)

He said a legally binding charter would open the door to a further expansion of EU powers through jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice in areas touching on citizens' rights - such as social security, health care and pension rights.

"If you make this charter legally binding, you open the possibility of European law to penetrate into national social and pension systems," Mr Zahradil stated.

"Clear arrangements should be made to ensure that nothing like this is going to happen," he said, adding that "this is a good example of how it remains completely unclear in the constitution how the division of powers is organised."

"A new text should be simpler, more transparent, more understandable for citizens and contain a clear definition of jurisdictions and competencies at the European level," he noted, summarizing Prague's "starting position."

Challenge to the constitution's friends

The strong Czech stance against the constitution comes just after a Madrid conference of 18 pro-constitution states last weekend issued a clear message in defence of the treaty's "fundamental content."

Mr Zahradil's comments reflect the mood in important parts of his own ODS party which took office in the government earlier this month - and which includes eurosceptic Czech president Vaclav Klaus as its most prominent member.

But the Czech Greens, the junior coalition partner of the ODS, are already unhappy with the anti-constitution noise coming from Prague, according to Czech press reports.

In the actual re-negotiations in the constitution, Prague is unlikely to go so far as to push for the radical ideas of president Klaus - who champions a new decentralised Organisation of European States replacing the EU.

"Seventy percent of what is included in the constitution is also part of the [EU's] Nice and Amsterdam treaties," said Mr Zahradil. "I do not expect we will deconstruct the current treaties."

The Czech resistance against a full-blown EU constitution is expected to be echoed by Poland, which has seen its conservative government voicing similar ideas with both countries' presidents discussing positions over the issue last week.

Some of the Czech thinking also bears resemblance to the debate in the Netherlands, where politicans are discussing how to curb EU powers amid ongoing talks on a new centre-left government.

Exclusive

Selmayr did not keep formal records of lobby meetings

The German former secretary-general of the European Commission held some 21 meetings which were registered in the lobby register. But no documents appeared to exist summarising what was said.

Exclusive

EU parliament rejects ombudsman over expenses

The European Parliament questions whether the ombudsman had the right to criticise the institution's "margin of discretion" in deciding on publication of confidential papers about the controversial monthly €4,513 expenses lump sum for MEPs.

Survey: Half of EU staff 'don't know' ethics rules

Only half of EU staff claim good knowledge of their workplace's ethics rules, while 82 percent of staff at the European Parliament have never attended any ethics trainings, according to a report by the European Court of Auditors.

News in Brief

  1. Trump turned down: Greenland not for sale
  2. UK Libdems would back Clarke or Harman as new PM
  3. Six countries agree to take 'Open Arms' ship migrants
  4. Gibraltar judge: Iranian ship should be released
  5. Increasing fears of a global recession
  6. Far-right hate crimes on the rise in Germany
  7. EU steel tariffs have 'worked well' so far
  8. Italian court: Migrant rescue ship can enter Italian waters

Magazine

The changing of the guards in the EU in 2019

The four most powerful EU institutions - Commission, Parliament, Council and Central Bank will all have new leaders in the coming ten months. Here is an overview.

Magazine

Explained: What is the European Parliament?

While domestic political parties often use the European Parliament as a dumping ground for unwanted politicians - and a majority of citizens don't bother to vote - the parliament, over the years, has become a dominant force in the EU.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. UNESDAUNESDA reduces added sugars 11.9% between 2015-2017
  2. International Partnership for Human RightsEU-Uzbekistan Human Rights Dialogue: EU to raise key fundamental rights issues
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersNo evidence that social media are harmful to young people
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersCanada to host the joint Nordic cultural initiative 2021
  5. Vote for the EU Sutainable Energy AwardsCast your vote for your favourite EUSEW Award finalist. You choose the winner of 2019 Citizen’s Award.
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersEducation gets refugees into work
  7. Counter BalanceSign the petition to help reform the EU’s Bank
  8. UNICEFChild rights organisations encourage candidates for EU elections to become Child Rights Champions
  9. UNESDAUNESDA Outlines 2019-2024 Aspirations: Sustainability, Responsibility, Competitiveness
  10. Counter BalanceRecord citizens’ input to EU bank’s consultation calls on EIB to abandon fossil fuels
  11. International Partnership for Human RightsAnnual EU-Turkmenistan Human Rights Dialogue takes place in Ashgabat
  12. Nordic Council of MinistersNew campaign: spot, capture and share Traces of North

Latest News

  1. Selmayr did not keep formal records of lobby meetings
  2. EU asked to solve migrant rescue deadlock
  3. Internal EU paper: Second Brexit vote was no longer 'distant dream'
  4. EU has 'zero incentive' to break open 'trilogue' deals
  5. Denmark plans import ban on EU-approved pesticide
  6. US offers Johnson helping hand on Brexit
  7. Italy: New government without Salvini in the making
  8. Brexit row delays financial products transparency review

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersLeading Nordic candidates go head-to-head in EU election debate
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersNew Secretary General: Nordic co-operation must benefit everybody
  3. Platform for Peace and JusticeMEP Kati Piri: “Our red line on Turkey has been crossed”
  4. UNICEF2018 deadliest year yet for children in Syria as war enters 9th year
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic commitment to driving global gender equality
  6. International Partnership for Human RightsMeet your defender: Rasul Jafarov leading human rights defender from Azerbaijan
  7. UNICEFUNICEF Hosts MEPs in Jordan Ahead of Brussels Conference on the Future of Syria
  8. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic talks on parental leave at the UN
  9. International Partnership for Human RightsTrial of Chechen prisoner of conscience and human rights activist Oyub Titiev continues.
  10. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic food policy inspires India to be a sustainable superpower
  11. Nordic Council of MinistersMilestone for Nordic-Baltic e-ID
  12. Counter BalanceEU bank urged to free itself from fossil fuels and take climate leadership

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us