22nd Mar 2018

Czech government falls, putting EU presidency at risk

  • Mirek Topolanek (r) chaired a high-level EU summit at the end of last week (Photo: Council of the EU)

The Czech parliament on Tuesday (24 March) by a razor-thin majority voted down the government led by Prime Minister Mirek Topolanek, who currently holds the EU presidency.

The vote of non-confidence gathered the necessary 101 votes out of 200 to topple the administration, with four votes from the governing party going with the opposition.

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The government will have to resign, but the constitution does not provide a deadline by which new elections need to take place, with EU officials expecting some sort of deal with the opposition so that the current cabinet can stay on until the end of the Czech EU presidency, on 30 June.

The centre-right ODS party led by Mr Topolanek along with the opposition Social Democrats are expected to meet President Vaclav Klaus in the coming days to negotiate a solution.

According to the Czech constitution, the president is obliged to accept the resignation of the government and consider two possible solutions: early elections or a new government under political consensus of the parliamentary majority.

The current government, formed by the ODS, the Christian-Democrats and the Greens only retained 96 of the 200 deputies in the lower chamber, depending on the good will of independent MPs. Two former ODS members, Vlastimil Tlusty and Jan Schwippel, as well as two other MPs recently expelled from the Green party, Vera Jakubkova and Olga Zubova, voted with the opposition, AFP reports.

In its motivation for the non-confidence vote, Social Democrat leader Jiri Paroubek said the Czech government was "a disgrace" for the EU because it has no clear position on the union and is unable to ratify the Lisbon treaty in the Czech Republic.

Mr Paroubek said the Topolanek government is "sticking to its EU presidency as the only possibility to justify its existence" and is "closing its eyes" to the impact of the global economic crisis.

Commenting on the vote, Mr Topolanek admitted the collapse of his government could undermine the EU presidency.

"I believe it can complicate our negotiating power in Europe have grown used to us negotiating hard. In this sense it can happen that our position will be weakened," he told reporters after the vote.

He re-iterated that he would be in favour of early elections this summer if no new government is formed.

The EU commission on Tuesday said it maintained "full trust" that the Czech law would allow the country to continue conducting its EU presidency "as effectively as it has done until now."

"It is for the Czech Republic's democratic process under the constitution to resolve the domestic political issues. The commission is confident that this is done in a way which ensures the full functioning of the Council presidency," a commission statement reads.

This is not the first time that a country in charge of the rotating EU presidency has a change of government during its mandate. In 1996, Italy faced a similar situation when a centre-left coalition headed by Romano Prodi won parliamentary elections, ousting the centre-right government led by Lamerto Dini.

In 1993, Denmark also faced a change of government while it was chairing the EU, with the government led by Poul Schluter falling and Social Democrat Poul Nyrup Rasmussen coming to power.


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