Czech speaker steps into Middle East hot water

Photo: CTK

The speaker of the Czech lower house of parliament has got himself into hot water while leading a delegation of European MPs on a fact finding meeting in the Middle East. Members of the delegation held talks with the radical Hamas group behind the speaker’s back although the official EU and Czech stance is to shun such contacts. Some see the incident as symbolic of the stuttering end to the Czech EU presidency.

Czech lower house speaker, Miloslav Vlček, was heading a delegation of 41 parliamentarians from EU countries on a fact-finding mission round the Middle East. The timetable included a visit to the Gaza strip on Tuesday.

Mr Vlček had given assurances before the trip that no talks would be held with Hamas, the radical Palestinian group which administers the Gaza Strip. But some members of the group led by Italian reformed communist party member Luisa Morgantini decided to meet with Hamas leaders in secret on their own. The Czech speaker was reportedly at the time visiting an Islamic university.

Mr Vlček was forced to denounce Morgantini’s go-it-alone initiative which has been dubbed as a scandal by the Czech media: “I distance myself from this meeting. It was outside the official programme of our delegation”

Photo: CTK
Thomas Klau is head of the Paris office of the think tank, the European Council of Foreign Relations. He has some sympathy for the Czech speaker’s position.

“I do not think it is reasonable to expect a leader of a parliamentary delegation to as it were put shackles on every member of a delegation. If a member of a delegation decides to pursue her or his own initiative on a particular topic there is not much a leader of a delegation can do to stop this happening,” he said.

Many have however taken the latest hitch for the Czech EU presidency as symbolic of a presidency in its dieing days in the hands of a caretaker government. Many are in Europe are already looking to its Swedish successor. Thomas Klau again:

“The new presidency, the Swedish one in this case, has been very busy in the last few months and weeks in terms of drafting the agenda and taking over from the Czechs as it were as they must to ensure a smooth transition. And it is clear there is now more attention focused on the Swedish presidency than the Czech presidency.”

Unfortunately, for the Czechs the latest incident can only cast minds back to the blunder made at the start of their presidency when a spokesman justified the Israeli invasion of the Gaza Strip.