Prague considering referendum on revised EU constitution
The Czech Republic is likely to hold a referendum if the upcoming re-negotiations on the EU constitution result in a similar-style text, the Czech deputy prime minister has said, raising the prospect of a new stumbling block to an early settlement of the divisive issue.
Speaking to EUobserver, Alexander Vondra said on Tuesday (6 March) that "the final text [of a renegotiated constitution] has to be different compared to the one currently on the table", expressing Prague's preference for a slimmed-down version of the charter.
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"We could hold a referendum if there is a constitution-like document at the end of negotiations", the Czech deputy prime minister said.
According to the ruling Czech conservative ODS party, there is no hurry to adopt a new charter, although Germany - currently holding the EU presidency - is pushing for a compromise text to be agreed before the end of this year and ratified before the 2009 European elections.
"We should avoid strict deadlines, unless we are one hundred percent sure that an agreement is to be born", Mr Vondra said, adding that if a compromise over the disputed constitution is not hammered out by the end of 2008, the Czech presidency – taking over the bloc's six-month rotating chair in January 2009 – will not deal with the EU constitution because of the European Parliament's elections.
The Czech Republic is among seven EU countries that have put ratification of the constitution on hold after it was rejected in referendums in France and the Netherlands in 2005, forcing EU governments to consider an alternative.
Meanwhile, the UK's Europe minister Geoff Hoon said on Tuesday (6 March) that the Czech and British governments share a common view on the future of Europe.
"We both recognized the importance of Europe not moving too far ahead of public opinion", Mr Hoon said after meeting the Czech foreign minister Karel Schwarzenberg, stressing the need for deregulation and the return of power to national governments.
Climate change rift?
The Czech conservatives have however politically teamed up with their British colleagues, officially launching on Tuesday their Movement for European Reform, a rather eurosceptic platform seen as a possible spring-board to a new political party in the European Parliament.
"The new group will be established immediately after the 2009 elections", the UK conservative party chief David Cameron said, although his Czech counterpart Mirek Topolanek has not ruled out the possibility of staying in the European People's Party and European Democrats (EPP-ED), the Parliament's most powerful political grouping.
"We are at the beginning of the process and cannot define the final outcome", Czech deputy prime minister Alexander Vondra told EUobserver, although he was critical of some members of the EPP.
Christian democrats "from the southern countries" have been an obstacle to truly reformist ideas (…), "especially when it comes to the economic and social issues, such was the services directive," he stated.
On top of this, the new Czech-British alliance has hit another snag - to do with global warming - as Czech prime minister Mirek Topolanek said he was more concerned about energy security than climate change.
According to the Financial Times, Mr Topolanek said although he thought climate change was a "very important topic", he was concerned "socialists" might start unwisely throwing money at projects to tackle it.
Environment protection has become "big business" and a centre-right party cannot miss this chance, Mr Topolanek said according to media reports.
Last month, the Czech president and conservative party founder, Vaclav Klaus, described climate change as a "false myth". Asked whether he believed mankind was ruining the planet, he replied: "Perhaps only Al Gore may be saying something along these lines: a sane person can't."
Mr Cameron, on the other hand, has listed climate change among the Movement's main priorities.
Meanwhile, on Tuesday (6 March) Bulgaria's Union of Democratic Forces, chaired by former president of the country Petar Stoyanov, also joined the Movement for European Reform, becoming its third member.