PM Topolánek: It’s Lisbon or Moscow

Mirek Topolánek, photo: CTK

One of the key issues of the upcoming Czech EU presidency will be the future of the Lisbon treaty, but the Czech Republic is the only EU country that has yet not voted on the reform document. Six weeks before the Czechs take over, Prime Minister Mirek Topolánek has moved to deal with his party rivals and get the treaty out of the way.

After the Swedish Parliament approved the Lisbon treaty on Thursday, the Czech Republic remains the only EU country to have held no vote on the fundamental EU document. The government has not been able to push the treaty through although it can count on the votes of the other coalition parties and even the opposition Social Democrats. The reason lies within the prime minister’s own party, the Civic Democrats. The widening gap between supporters of the current leader, Mr Topolánek, and followers of the party’s founder and honorary chairman, the incumbent President Václav Klaus, is also very much the dividing line between the supporters and opponents of the Lisbon treaty.

This week, Mr Topolánek launched an offensive which he hopes will get rid of two problems in one go. On Thursday, he told Czech Radio he would ask the party’s upcoming congress to support him in getting Parliament to approve the treaty.

Mirek Topolánek,  photo: CTK
“I have been very open about the Lisbon treaty and the former constitutional treaty but despite all the problems, I believe that it’s better for us to actively influence what is happening than just passively being out there on the periphery. With all the risks and problems that come with it, I want to ask for such mandate.”

He was even more open in an editorial published by a leading Czech daily Mladá fronta Dnes on Thursday. Entitled ‘The choice is between Lisbon and Moscow’, the editorial is a defence of the treaty against the euro-sceptic wing of his party. The European Union, together with NATO, could become a barrier to Russia’s imperial ambitions. It was far better to kiss the German chancellor than to hug the Russian bear, Mr Topolánek said. If the Lisbon treaty really harms Czech national interests, the country would then have to leave the EU. Also, the people who vote for the Civic Democrats don’t mind the Lisbon treaty nearly as much as actual party members.

Pavel Bém,  photo: CTK
Mr Topolánek’s offensive met with a countermove by his party rival Pavel Bém. The Mayor of Prague is a vocal opponent of the Lisbon Treaty, and is considered a protégé of President Klaus. On Thursday, Mr Bém came up with his own solution to the Lisbon treaty puzzle. He suggested it should be replaced with a “simple, 15-page-long document everybody would understand”.

The coming weeks will shed more light on the future of the Lisbon treaty. On Tuesday, the Constitutional Court is expected to hear President Klaus on the issue and reach a verdict whether or not the document contradicts Czech law.

In two weeks’ time, Mirek Topolánek will defend his leadership at the Civic Democrats’ party congress against Pavel Bém. If he beats the euro-sceptic faction of his party and defends his position, the way should be paved for the adoption of the Lisbon treaty by the Czech Parliament. If he looses, he is all but likely to take the Lisbon treaty with him.