Czech crisis evokes concern over EU presidency role

25th March 2009, Comments 0 comments

However at the EU parliament there was great concern at the toppling of the Czech government, particularly on how it will affect the process of ratifying the European Union's reforming Lisbon Treaty.

Brussels -- The toppling of the Czech government Tuesday raised concerns over the country's ability to carry out its EU presidency role, despite a confident statement by the European Commission.

"The commission has full trust that the national constitutional law allows for the Czech Republic to continue conducting the Council Presidency as effectively as it has done until now," the EU executive said in a statement.

However at the EU parliament -- sitting in Strasbourg, France -- there was great concern at the turn of events, particularly on how it will affect the process of ratifying the European Union's reforming Lisbon Treaty.

"Europe needs strong leadership in these times of crisis," said Joseph Daul, head of the largest EU parliamentary group, the centre-right European People's Party.

"A government which assumes the EU presidency but in which there is no confidence cannot assume this leadership," he added in Strasbourg.

The Czechs took over the European Union's rotating presidency in January for a key sixth-month term as Europe and the rest of the world face an economic crisis.

It is also a key period for the EU's reforming Lisbon Treaty, which all 27 member states must ratify if it is to come into effect.

There had already been concerns in diplomatic circles about the ability of the government of Czech Prime Minister Mirek Topolanek, as opposed to heavy hitters like France or Germany, to lead the bloc at a time of recession.

"For the stability and image of Europe, it is going to become more difficult," said Luxembourg Foreign Minister Jean Asselborn.

In practical terms there need not be any great change as Topolanek's government could stay in place until the EU presidency is handed over to Sweden in July.

However EU parliamentarians also saw the defeat of the government in Prague as a blow to the process of ratifying the Lisbon Treaty, not least as the Czechs are yet to fully ratify the text themselves.

"Lisbon is greatly threatened by this situation, it's a real problem," said the Greens leader in the EU parliament, Daniel Cohn-Bendit.

The crisis highlights the need for the kind of dedicated EU president which the treaty would bring in, he added

All eyes have been on Ireland, the only country constitutionally bound to put the treaty to a national referendum.

Irish voters have already rejected the text once and are set to be asked the question against before November.

However while the document has been approved by the Czech lower house of parliament, the upper senate is yet to give its view.

On top of that, eurosceptic Czech President Vaclav Klaus has refused to confirm whether he would ratify the text even if parliament does back it.

If a eurosceptic government is elected it may help make his mind up.

Earlier, Topolanek said it would be "irresponsible" for independent deputies to back Tuesday's censure motion at a time of crisis and ruled out the idea of a caretaker government until the end of the Czech EU presidency.

It is not the first time that a government holding the European Union's rotating six-month presidency has fallen.

The last time such a situation arose was in the first half of 1996 when Italy's centre-left coalition under Romano Prodi took over from Lamberto Dini's centre-right government following a legislative election.


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