Czech foreign minister apologizes for leak of Sarkozy meeting notes

Czech Foreign Karel Schwarzenberg has apologised for the publication of a transcript of a meeting last month between French President Nicolas Sarkozy and Czech Prime Minister Mirek Topolánek. While some Czech officials have denied the authenticity of the record, the magazine Reflex, which printed the minutes, claims it an interesting insight into how power deals are struck.

“Do you know what it’s like to stand alone against all those Arabs? To have them on the phone? They are terrible, I swear”. So – apparently – said French President Nicolas Sarkozy, explaining to Czech Prime Minister Mirek Topolánek why he should remain in charge of the Union for the Mediterranean. The quote is from the minutes of a meeting at the Elyseé Palace in late October which were published by the Czech magazine Reflex on Thursday. It has refused to reveal the source but has denied claims by the Czech ambassador to France, Pavel Fischer, that the transcript is not authentic. Meanwhile, Foreign Minister Karel Schwarzenberg has apologized.

“Unfortunately, I have to admit that it probably happened at one of our offices and that it was a mistake. I assume responsibility for this; I bear all responsibility for this ministry. First we’ll have to find out what exactly happened; I never say something like this beforehand. Firing someone is a serious issue.”

The meeting of the French president and the Czech prime minister took place two months before the Czech Republic assumes the rotating EU presidency from France, and dealt with EU business. According to the transcript, Mr Sarkozy offered the Czech leader a deal. France would stay on at the head of the Union for the Mediterranean instead of passing it onto the Czechs, together with all other EU presidency agenda.

The Czech officials were then offered several concessions in return – no interference in eastern European matters which presumably referred to the enlargement of the European Union. The French president also promised to invite the US president-elect Barack Obama for an EU-US summit to be held in April in the Czech capital. “I have a secret,” said Nicolas Sarkozy, “If Obama is elected, I’ll have dinner with him on November 15. I’ll let him know.”

Article in Reflex magazine
Whether or not Mr Sarkozy passed the invite on, the Czechs will be disappointed on this one. Barack Obama is set to visit a G20 meeting in London at the same time. But other promises, like the one of free hands in the east, or a speedy approval of the EU energy package, may in fact materialize.

As an insight into how the European Union is run, the transcript is certainly interesting. But the fact that Czech foreign ministry staff, either in Prague or at one of the embassies that received the alleged transcript, leaked to the media, shows a serious lack of integrity – and is no comfort to those European Union countries reportedly worried about how well the Czechs will handle their first EU presidency.