Sarkozy criticizes Czech president's refusal to fly EU flag

Nicolas Sarkozy, photo: CTK

Just two weeks before the Czech Republic takes over the rotating presidency of the EU from France, the French president has taken a swipe at the Czechs. Nicolas Sarkozy says it is insulting that some Czech public buildings are refusing to fly the EU flag – an apparent reference to Prague Castle, home to the fiercely Euro-sceptic Czech president, Václav Klaus.

Nicolas Sarkozy,  photo: CTK
President Sarkozy told the European Parliament on Tuesday that he supported the courageous attitude of its chairman Hans Gert Pottering regarding Czech President Václav Klaus. He was referring to an incident earlier this month when the Czech head of state felt offended by EU parliamentarians questioning his stance on the Lisbon treaty and other European issues; Mr Sarkozy said that the MEPs were insulted when they saw that EU flags were removed from public buildings in the Czech Republic. But Deputy Prime Minister for European Affairs Alexandr Vondra told reporters in Brussels that this was certainly not the case.

“I have my office, as does the prime minister, in the government building in Prague, it’s called Strakova Academy. There was, there is and there will be the European flag. The success of the presidency should not be measured by the numbers of flags flying.”

But Mr Sarkozy was obviously pointing to the fact that there is no EU flag over Prague Castle, the seat of the Euro-sceptic Czech President, Václav Klaus. Mr Klaus has consistently refused to raise the EU flag over the presidential office, arguing that the castle is a symbol of the Czech state and not the EU.

Photo: European Commission
But other Czech politicians do not consider the issue to be that serious. Deputy Prime Minister and the head of the Greens Martin Bursík said jokingly that cabinet members had come up with several options of how to make sure that the EU flag does fly over Prague Castle.

“We were informally talking about various options; one of them was that the EU flag could be flown when the president is away. As you know, the presidential flag is hoisted when the president is present. Whenever he leaves the castle, it could be replaced with the EU flag.”

Václav Klaus,  photo: CTK
While Prime Minister Mirek Topolánek’s own party, the Civic Democrats, was instrumental in Mr Klaus’s re-election last year and the cabinet has been loyal to him ever since, President Klaus’s personal campaign against the European Union is embarrassing to the government, which is getting ready to take over the EU presidency. Deputy Prime Minister and Christian Democrat leader Jiří Čunek says it would really help if President Klaus would hold back a little.

“We all quietly hope that a time will come when we will not have to start every meeting with our 26 European colleagues by explaining what the president has done, again. It’s not always pleasant because it keeps us from real work.”

French President Nicolas Sarkozy managed to stir things up for the Czechs a little although he also said he had full confidence that the Czech presidency would be successful. And Czech Deputy PM for European Affairs Alexandr Vondra says Prague has definitely learnt a lesson from the French: how to liven things up.

“We observed President Sarkozy and how he worked at the Council. But the Czech prime minister is a very energetic man as well, so I don’t think the Czech presidency will be about snake-charming; we will have fun.”