Honeymoon over for Klaus and government as row breaks out over EU

Top officials celebrate Wednesday's signing of the EU accession treaty - Vaclav Havel and Vaclav Klaus, photo: CTK

A war of words erupted on Thursday between members of the Czech government and President Vaclav Klaus, over differences of opinion regarding Czech membership of the European Union. President Klaus's comments leading up to Wednesday's signing ceremony in Athens - among other things that EU membership was a marriage of convenience rather than a marriage of love - have angered the government. On Thursday Foreign Minister Cyril Svoboda accused President Klaus of making superficial statements about the EU, while the prime minister, Vladimir Spidla, has warned him that foreign policy is exclusively the domain of the government, not the president. Not so, says Mr Klaus's spokesman, Tomas Klvana.

EU Athens summit - from right: Vladimir Spidla, Vaclav Klaus, Cyril Svoboda, photo: CTK
"No, not at all. The president has some quite significant competences and powers in our constitutional system that are complimentary with the government. The president can negotiate treaties, he can sign treaties, he can ratify treaties, and by constitution he is not responsible for his decision to the government, whereas the government is responsible to the parliament. So the point is really coordination between various bodies, and various political representatives within the Czech constitutional system, and the president really acknowledges that the coordination is the key. And he's going to initiate a discussion about this coordination very soon."

Top officials celebrate Wednesday's signing of the EU accession treaty - Vaclav Havel and Vaclav Klaus, photo: CTK
You say discussion, but the president - as the head of state of the Czech Republic, a country which has made it its declared policy aim to join the European Union as soon as possible - surely the whole tone of his words about the EU is wrong? He was quoted by the German weekly Die Zeit as saying joining the EU was a marriage of convenience and not a marriage of love. Those kind of remarks gives out a mixed message; the government is saying we really want to join the EU as soon as possible, and we're very much in favour of this, President Klaus is saying there's not really an alternative. That's not the same thing is it?

"I would suggest that it's just a matter of differences in degree and not in kind. They agree the Czech Republic has to be a member of the European Union as soon as possible, and when the president says it's a marriage of convenience, not of love, that's not anything new, he's been saying these things for a while now."

Top officials celebrate Wednesday's signing of the EU accession treaty, photo: CTK
Sorry to interrupt you, but possibly he shouldn't be saying those things as president. Maybe it's OK to say it as the head of an opposition party, but now he's president, perhaps those kind of remarks actually do the Czech Republic a disservice in the eyes of the EU.

"I don't see how they can do the country a disservice. That is his position, and he stands by his position, and he's able to discuss these issues that pertain to the Czech Republic's membership of the EU. And when he says that this a marriage of convenience, it's still a marriage, it's still an important treaty that the Czech Republic acknowledges and ratifies and cares about, and there are important responsibilities implied by the treaty. And the president wants to emphasise these responsibilities, because he feels that not enough people in Czech politics today are talking about these responsibilities."