Czech government to give up EU Charter opt-out
By Benjamin Fox
The Czech Republic is to abandon its opposition to the EU's charter of rights and the fiscal compact treaty in a sign that there could be warmer relations between Prague's new government and Brussels.
The country's newly-appointed prime minister, Bohuslav Sobotka, will travel to Brussels on Thursday (20 February) for meetings with the European Commission. He said he would inform commission chief Jose Manuel Barroso of his country's change of heart.
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The Czech Republic was "ready to rescind its request for an opt-out from the charter of human rights and freedoms," Sobotka told reporters on Wednesday (19 February).
"We have started serious discussion on joining the fiscal pact," he added.
The Charter enshrines a string of social, economic and political rights to EU nationals, but was opposed by former President Vaclav Klaus, who argued that it would invite legal challenges before the EU's courts by families of Germans who were expelled from territory in modern day Czech Republic after the Second World War.
Ultimately, Klaus insisted on an opt-out from the Charter as the main condition of his signing the Lisbon treaty during a difficult ratification process in 2009.
The new Social Democrat-led government was sworn into office at the end of January, bringing an end to a seven month power vacuum in the country caused by the collapse of the centre-right government last June.
Its early commitments should pave the way for warmer relations between Brussels and Prague following years of strain between the EU institutions and former President Klaus.
The fiscal compact agreement, which was struck by EU leaders in December 2011, commits countries to putting the bloc's limits on budget deficit and debt levels of 3 percent and 60 percent of GDP respectively, into national constitutions.
Critics say that it limits the flexibility of governments to put in place economic stimulus measures during times of recession. The UK is the only other EU country not to have signed up to the fiscal compact.