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Klaus, the arch eurosceptic holding up Lisbon Treaty

Published on 16/10/2009

Prague -- Czech President Vaclav Klaus, the last hold-out against the Lisbon Treaty, is a proud eurospectic who has a history of baiting Brussels and refuses to fly the EU flag over his perch in Prague Castle.

The 68-year-old, accused by his opponents of helping to scupper the country’s presidency of the European Union earlier this year, was on familiar territory last week when he said the treaty which is designed to streamline bureaucracy would merely serve to make the 27-nation bloc less democratic.

"I have always considered this treaty a bad development for the EU. It will deepen the EU’s problems, increase its democratic deficit, and worsen the position of our country and expose it to new risks," he said.

After his fellow eurosceptic, Polish President Lech Kaczynski, signed the tract at the weekend, Klaus is now the last obstacle to the treaty which must be ratified by all EU member states to take effect.

Klaus infuriated powerbrokers in Brussels last Friday by asking for an opt-out from the treaty’s Charter of Fundamental Rights to make sure European courts cannot review cases once decided by the Czech judiciary.

In a move seen across Europe as a bid to further stall the ratification, the president asked for an exemption that would prevent ethnic Germans forced out of his country after World War II from claiming back their property.

Jose Manuel Barroso, president of the European Commission, met with Czech Prime Minister Jan Fischer on Tuesday to work out how to break down Klaus’s resistance.

Klaus and Fischer were once friends who used to meet for drinks when Klaus was an economic forecaster at the Academy of Sciences.

The friendship however has long cooled and the president is now proving a headache for the prime minister who came to power after Klaus’s eurosceptic allies in parliament helped to topple Mirek Topolanek’s government midway through the Czech EU presidency in March.

Topolanek took over from Klaus as leader of their right-wing Civic Democrat Party (ODS) party when he ran from president, and relations chilled as Klaus came to regard his successor as too pro-European.

The collapse of Topolanek’s government hamstrung the Czech presidency of the EU — not something the notoriously brusque Klaus lost sleep over.

Having labelled the EU presidency as "unimportant", Klaus prompted boos and a partial walk-out by members during a fiery speech in front of the European Parliament in February.

The self-styled European dissident, a devout admirer of Britain’s former right-wing premier Margaret Thatcher, has always fervently defended "individual freedoms".

He recently published a book called "Blue Planet In Green Shackles", contesting global warming and denouncing the "hysteria" of environmentalists whom he accuses of encroaching on freedom in the way communists once did.

Klaus played a major role in his country’s transition to a market economy after the 1989 coup that overthrew communist rule in then-Czechoslovakia.

He was minister of finance in 1989-1992 before becoming prime minister in 1992-1997. After his government fell in the wake of a financial scandal in the ODS, he became speaker of parliament from 1998-2002.

His political career reached its peak in 2003, when he replaced Vaclav Havel as the country’s president. His five-year mandate was renewed in a tumultuous parliamentary vote in February 2008.

The president’s popularity, unshakeable for a long time, has recently started to decline, but it still stays high at 61 percent, according to a poll conducted by the CVVM agency last month.

Klaus, a keen tennis and basketball player and downhill skier, is married to Slovak economist Livia Klausova. They have two sons.

Jan Flemr/AFP/Expatica