Czech foreign minister says he’ll walk out if Czechs do not join EU fiscal union

Karel Schwarzenberg

No sooner was the government dispute over church restitutions resolved, the Czech government is racked by a new crisis. The leader of TOP 09, Foreign Minister Karel Schwarzenberg has made it clear that unless the Czech Republic joins the emerging European fiscal union his party would walk out of the coalition government. This latest ultimatum has brought to a head a long-simmering dispute in Czech foreign policy.

Karel Schwarzenberg
The country’s stand regarding EU-integration has long been a matter of contention between Czech political leaders. The country’ s Eurosceptic president Vaclav Klaus is a staunch opponent of deeper integration and has exerted himself to the limit to prevent Prague making what he considers to be “rash commitments” in this respect. Fears stemming from the eurozone’s debt crisis appear to have brought the president and the prime minister’s stands even closer, with Prague adopting a cautious approach to both a loan for the IMF and a possible endorsement of a deal on closer fiscal integration.

Prague’s official EU-policy line has paradoxically left the country’s foreign minister – a strong advocate of closer integration – isolated. After repeatedly failing to get the message across that the country could not afford to remain on the sidelines of EU affairs, Mr. Schwarzenberg on Wednesday gave the government an ultimatum, saying he would not be part of a cabinet that would leave the country outside of the EU mainstream. The Czech foreign minister argued that it was essential for Czechs to sit at the EU table and take part in decisions that would profoundly affected their future.

Photo: European Commission
Within hours of what appears to have been a stormy cabinet session on Wednesday, President Vaclav Klaus sent the prime minister a letter making it clear that he would not, under any circumstances, sign the EU agreement on closer fiscal discipline on behalf of the Czech Republic. He moreover took it upon himself to chastise the foreign minister for bringing the issue to a head.

“I am extremely put out by this development and I believe I am not alone in this. Issues such as church restitutions and EU integration are so weighty that it is almost inevitable they will create controversy. But these differences of opinion must be resolved by standard mechanisms - in a normal, cultivated debate. As president of the Czech Republic I will not stand by and watch one of the governing parties rock the coalition boat and issue two ultimatums in as many days.”

Václav Klaus | Photo: Radio Prague International
Caught between two millstones, the Czech prime minster is trying to calm emotions and buy more time. He told newsmen it was premature to debate the government’s decision on the matter since much would depend on what the emerging EU fiscal agreement contained and how seriously it would limit the country’s decision-making. If it meant handing over significant powers to Brussels he said the matter would have to be decided by national referendum.