Czech PM attends first EU summit since taking office

Petr Nečas y Jose Manuel Barroso, photo: ČTK

Czech leader Petr Nečas is no stranger to EU summits, but Thursday’s which got underway in Brussels is his first as prime minister. Ahead of the summit, the PM made clear he would defend Czech interests and press two key issues: the need for automatic sanctions for the breach of EU budgetary regulations (which the summit aims to address) and to raise the pressure over Canadian visas which were reinstated for Czechs last year.

Petr Nečas,  photo: ČTK
Petr Nečas is no stranger to Brussels but this is the first time he has taken a seat at the table as prime minister. His demeanour, which some political observers describe as more civil than some of his predecessors (namely former prime minister Mirek Topolánek) may help him turn a new page for the Czech Republic, one in which the country will no longer seen as an “upstart”. In previous years some Czech representatives - namely the country’s eurosceptic president – have raised hackles in the EU to no small degree.

While milder in manner, Prime Minister Nečas has nevertheless made clear he too will defend Czech interests. At the EU summit, for example, he will be pushing for punitive measures for EU members who breach budgetary regulations to prevent, as he has said in the past, “another Greece”. On Thursday here’s what he had to say:

Photo: European Commission
“We are convinced that... we have to go beyond declarations; criteria on increases in state deficits and public finances must be backed up by sanctions. Only then can regulations have a real effect. We are in favour of sanctions being automatic for those who fail to respect budgetary rules and they should be the same for all members. The most effective way would be to scale back EU funds for members driving up debt, a measure that is easy for all to understand.”

At the summit, the PM also fully intends to raise the issue of Canadian visas which were introduced for Czech citizens last year over the high number of asylum applications by Czech Romanies. Mr Nečas called the visas a matter of EU solidarity; while in the past the European Commission floated the idea of introducing visas for Canadian diplomats in response, it never took the step. Prime Minister Nečas again:

Petr Nečas y Jose Manuel Barroso,  photo: ČTK
“The fact some EU citizens don’t need visas to travel to certain countries outside the union - but others do - smacks of inequality. We are convinced that the European Commission needs to continue intense talks on the subject with top Canadian representatives. And, I was assured by the commission head Jose Manuel Barroso on Wednesday that the commission would take a very active approach.”

Besides visas and EU regulations, the Czech prime minister expressed indirect support for France at the summit on Thursday on another sensitive issue: that of France’s expulsion of hundreds of Bulgarian and Romanian Roma as part of its crack-down on crime and illegal migration, a move that has drawn vocal criticism from within the 27-member body. Speaking on Thursday Mr Nečas indirectly came to France’s defence, saying each EU state had a right to make sure its laws were observed.