22nd Feb 2019

Czech Republic rejects EU villain role

The Czech Republic is being unfairly painted as an EU villain ahead of its presidency next year, Czech foreign minister Karel Schwarzenberg has said as the country gears up to take over the EU chair in January.

The Czech Republic's reputation as a highly eurosceptic country is "false," Mr Schwarzenberg told French daily Le Monde in an interview published on Saturday (25 October).

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"We are not more eurosceptic than other countries in Europe, and I regret that we are being presented as the bad [characters] in the play," he said.

Referring to the country's outspoken EU-hostile president, Vaclav Klaus, the diplomat underlined he "has his own opinions," but added that "it is the government that forms foreign and European policy."

According to the Czech top diplomat, Prague will also ratify the EU's Lisbon treaty - aimed at making the bloc more efficient – before the January presidency hand over.

Additionally, Mr Schwarzenberg dismissed doubts that a "small country" like his could not deal with major issues such as the Russia-Georgia conflict and the global financial crisis, which have dominated the French presidency agenda.

"We may be small but in the case of the Russians specifically, we have more know-how than anybody else since we lived with them for 40 years," he said.

"[For the rest,] we will of course keep a close and constant relation with each and every one of the EU member states. We are in Europe, the phone works, everybody can go within one hour to London or Paris, where is the problem?" he added.

Pistols at dawn

Mr Schwarzenberg's comments come as speculations have mounted in the media that French leader Nicolas Sarkozy may have ambitions to lead the EU beyond the end of the French chairmanship of the bloc, on 31 December.

Le Monde reported last week - quoting several advisors to the French president - that Mr Sarkozy would like to lead a new eurozone "economic government," heading the group of countries using the euro until another EU member state using the single currency takes up the rotating EU presidency, in 2010.

The Czech foreign minister said he "could not believe" this means Mr Sarkozy wants to "neutralise" the Czech EU presidency.

"This suspicion is unbearable," he added, joking that if Paris tried to "sabotage" Prague's presidency - a word used by a Sarkozy advisor in Le Monde - it would merit an old-fashioned duel.

"If the president used this word, I'd consider it is an insult. And if we were [living] at the times of our grand-parents, we would have to meet at 5am in the Boulogne Woods [a large park in Paris], with two witnesses dressed in black," he said.

Klaus attacks

Meanwhile, Mr Klaus over the weekend accused the French president of trying to undermine the Czech contribution.

"Mr Sarkozy wants to siphon off our presidency," he said during a television debate on Sunday, using a term for illegal asset stripping coined when he was prime minister in the 1990s.

He added that the EU presidency was anyway "meaningless." "It is prestigious, but not for the countries. It is prestigious for the few politicians who go to Brussels 12 times per month," he was reported as saying by AFP.

If the Czech presidency had been in office during the financial crisis, it would have had "a more rational opinion …than most other European countries," Mr Klaus added, after earlier last week calling Mr Sarkozy's interventionist ideas on managing the economy "old socialism."

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