Against all the odds, leaders of the European Union emerged from the weekend's summit with an agreement to draw up a new treaty to govern the 27-member bloc. The "reform treaty", as it is to be called, will replace the moribund EU constitution, rejected by French and Dutch voters in 2005. Czech leaders have hailed what they see as the death and burial of the constitution as a great success, but the new document encapsulates many if not most of the constitution's original features. So was the summit really a triumph for the Czech Republic? We spoke to Tomas Sedlacek, chief economic strategist of the Czech bank CSOB.
"It was an important summit - I would say that it was one of the most important events that took place since the enlargement of the EU in May 2004. The question was can the EU function with 27 very, very different members. The weekend was proof that yes, we can function. Not as quickly as everybody would imagine, but we can function together and we can move forward as a united Europe."
Prime Minister Mirek Topolanek said the summit was a great success, President Vaclav Klaus said the summit proved that the runaway train of EU integration can be slowed down and even change direction, the deputy PM Alexandr Vondra said the abandonment of the constitution was a breakthrough. Is it really those things?
President Vaclav Klaus, photo: CTK
"Well the miracle of the weekend was that almost every politician that came back from the summit went home with the message 'this was a victory, this was good news for our country'. Almost all the 27 members could come back to their respective countries with the position 'we have won something'. When it comes to the Czech position, this government chooses to be Euroskeptic, or "Eurocautious" or "Eurocareful", so for them the interpretation was that they managed to slow down the train. But in fact the train was standing still, and now it's started moving. Of course there are many ways to look at it. One way is to say the train has slowed down. I would say the train has actually gained momentum and started moving."
But if you look at the destination of that train, many - if not most - of the features of the original EU constitution are present in this reform treaty. The system of double majority voting that was opposed so bitterly by Poland with the backing of the Czech Republic has merely been delayed, not abandoned. Is it still, then, a success for new members like the Czech Republic?
Photo: European Commission
"What happened three years ago, in my opinion, is that the European countries took upon themselves too heavy a burden in a very short period of time. We had the introduction of the single European currency in 2001, then in 2004 we had the largest enlargement in the history of the EU, with a completely different set of historical and geographical and also economic countries, and then one year later we were supposed to have the ratification of an EU treaty. These three steps seemed to have been too much. They brought about this fatigue that it's going out of control, it's going too fast. Now what has happened at the weekend was that we've decided we have the same destination, but we want to take a slower pace."