Pehe: EU worried at “learner driver” Czechs steering Europe through crisis

Prime Minister Mirek Topolánek, photo: CTK

It was a weekend of accusations and soul-searching for the main governing party, the Civic Democrats, in the wake of a second terrible drubbing at the hands of the left-wing opposition. Party leader Mirek Topolánek is under severe pressure to resign his leadership, and perhaps the prime minister’s post as well. A campaign to unseat him appears to be gaining momentum, with the tacit approval of the Civic Democrats’ honorary chairman, president Václav Klaus. So can he survive, and what does all this political instability mean for a country which is supposed to take over the presidency of the EU on January 1st at a time of global financial crisis? Radio Prague spoke to analyst Jiří Pehe.

“I think Mr Topolánek’s position has been shaky ever since Mr Klaus was re-elected as the president of the Czech Republic. Some analysts, including myself, predicted then that it was just a matter of time before Mr Topolánek was removed. And of course the results of the regional and Senate elections are now a very good reason for Klaus and his people to go after Topolánek to remove Mr Klaus and remove him from at least the post of chairman of the Civic Democratic Party.”

The big question though is why? What does President Klaus gain from removing Mirek Topolánek from the head of the Civic Democrats?

Prime Minister Mirek Topolánek,  photo: CTK
“Klaus has not been happy with Topolánek since Topolánek took over the Civic Democratic Party in 2002. We should remember that the Civic Democrat Party was founded by Klaus, it is his child so to speak, and he really wanted as his successor someone he can communicate with and, in a way, control. And Topolánek was elected against Klaus’ wishes.”

You’re just talking about two people – Mirek Topolánek and Václav Klaus – as if it was just this struggle between these two men, and that everybody else was just peripheral. Is it really just about them?

“No, I think that Klaus and Topolánek are of course just two symbols for something more profound that is going on in the Civic Democratic Party. Of course the divisions run deeper. We have to see that the Civic Democratic Party is maybe suffering now because of its previous successes.”

Photo: European Commission
The Czech Republic is due to take over the presidency of the European Union on January 1st, and many people have said there is some disquiet at the prospect of this small country riven by political instability and division taking over a project as important as this. Do you think there are real worries in Brussels that the Czechs just can’t handle it?

“I think there have been real worries for some time in the European Union, because the Czech Republic didn’t seem to be well prepared for its presidency. The problem is that the Czech Republic really cannot provide any leadership. I think we are in a situation of a young driver who is getting ready to drive a truck, with the rest of the crew on board. The others would have allowed him to drive if the road was empty and there was no difficult intersection ahead, but now I think all of them are worried, because there is really a very, very significant traffic jam ahead.”