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24th Mar 2019

Czech PM moves to allay presidency fears

  • New Czech prime minister Jan Fischer. It is unclear whether Mr Fischer will chair the European summit in June. (Photo: czso.cz)

The new prime minister of the Czech Republic, Jan Fischer, sought to allay concerns on Tuesday (12 May) about his country's helmsmanship of the EU, saying the successful completion of his country's EU presidency was "priority number one."

With less than two months to go as holders of the EU's rotating six-month presidency, the central European country appointed a new caretaker government on 8 May following a vote of no confidence in the Czech lower house in March.

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"The new ministers see things the same way [as I do]," Mr Fischer told journalists after a meeting with European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso in Brussels, his first visit abroad as prime minister.

To ensure a smooth finish, the Czechs will work in close co-operation with the commission, he said, adding that he and Mr Barroso had even exchanged telephone numbers.

Among the high-profile events remaining under the Czech presidency before it draws to a close at the end of June is an EU leaders' summit on 18-19 June, with the chief question being who will chair the two-day meeting.

So far it is undecided whether the role will be carried out by Mr Fischer or the country's eurosceptic president, Vaclav Klaus.

Mr Klaus is a staunch critic of the Lisbon Treaty and also holds controversial views on climate change, strongly criticising environmentalists in his 2007 book on the subject.

Czech weekly magazine Respekt has since claimed that the book was funded by Lukoil, a Russian energy company.

Mr Fischer says an official decision on the summit's chairmanship has not been taken yet, but that he personally believes the responsibility should fall on his shoulders.

"My position is that it should be the head of the executive power [who chairs the summit], but we have not decided yet," he says.

Issues to be discussed at the meeting include the region's response to the economic crisis, the upcoming climate summit in Copenhagen at the end of the year and formal approval of the legal guarantees Ireland is seeking over certain aspects of the Lisbon treaty.

Partially as a result of the chairmanship uncertainty, but also because of the tight timetable, the Irish government is working hard to secure unofficial member-state approval for the guarantees before the summit starts, say diplomats.

Lisbon ratification

Mr Fischer – who describes himself as a "euro-realist" - said he was pleased by the recent Czech Senate approval of the Lisbon treaty, adding that he hopes Mr Klaus will now sign the document without delay - the last step in the country's ratification process.

However, a new stumbling block appeared on Tuesday with a number of senators announcing they intend to challenge the legality of the document in the country's top court.

The Czech constitutional court has already ruled that certain sections of the reforming treaty are in line with the Czech constitution but has not dealt with the document in its entirety.

"We want the Constitutional Court to assess the treaty as a whole this time," said Jiri Oberfalzer, a senator for the right-wing Civic Democratic Party party (ODS) on Tuesday, reports AFP.

Mr Oberfalzer says the move has the support of at least 17 senators, the minimum needed under Czech law to bring a constitutional complaint to the court.

The document is also facing constitutional challenges in Germany.

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