European Parliament officials visit Prague in first Czech EU presidency event

Hans-Gert Pöttering and Mirek Topolánek, photo: CTK

Less than a month before it is due to take up the EU presidency, Prague hosted the first event linked to its new role. The President of the European Parliament, along with the heads of the Parliament’s political groups, came to Prague to discuss the Czech agenda for Europe, with the Lisbon treaty high on the list.

Hans-Gert Pöttering,  photo: CTK
The President of the European Parliament Hans-Gert Pöttering and the leaders of the Parliament’s factions arrived in Prague on Thursday for the first official event of the upcoming Czech EU presidency. One of their priorities is the adoption of the Lisbon treaty by the Czech Republic, the only EU member state not to have voted on it. Mr Pöttering told reporters on Friday that there were simply no alternatives.

“Just like in one’s private life, it’s important to keep one’s word. That’s the only way you can earn trust. And by signing the reform treaty, the Czech Republic gave its word to ratify it. I don’t want to consider any alternatives because I hope that the Czech Republic will keep its word.”

Alexandr Vondra
After the Czech Constitutional Court said last week that the Lisbon treaty was in line with Czech law, its adoption is closer than ever. Prime Minister Mirek Topolánek has vowed to push the treaty through the Czech Parliament which has angered the eurosceptic President Václav Klaus. But Deputy PM for European Affairs Alexandr Vondra says that Czechs will not go against the rest of the European Union.

“The Czech presidency will be moderate. We’ll strive to find consensus which everyone would feel good about. It will not be a time of muscle flexing, or a time of any great ideological heroism.”

Hans-Gert Pöttering and Mirek Topolánek,  photo: CTK
However President Václav Klaus did some muscle flexing of his own during his recent visit to Ireland where he privately met Declan Ganley, the man behind the Irish no to the Lisbon treaty. But his opposition to the reform document has now backfired. Chairman of the European Parliament Hans-Gert Pöttering said that the person who should address the European Parliament in January is Prime Minister Topolánek. For President Klaus, a later date might possibly be arranged.

Václav Klaus and Hans-Gert Pöttering,  photo: CTK
“If Mr President Klaus wishes to visit the European Parliament, we’ll certainly talk to him about it. We can find a suitable time; it would make sense for President Klaus to come either in February or March. Our expectation is of course that his speech will do a good service to us all and strengthen the European Union.”

Later on Friday, a meeting between the Czech president and the European Parliament delegation ended in sharp dispute, with angry words exchanged between Mr. Klaus and Daniel Cohn-Bendit of the European Greens. The atmosphere was said to be frosty and symbolically, there was no EU flag flying at Prague Castle.