Will the interim government give President Klaus a bigger role in the Czech EU presidency?

Photo: European Commission

With a caretaker government due to take over on May 8, there is growing concern as to how the Czech Republic will handle the remainder of its EU presidency. Can the country’s little-known and relatively inexperienced new prime minister Jan Fisher stand up to the pressure – or is this a chance for the country’s Eurosceptic president Václav Klaus to exert a far greater influence on EU affairs? Political analyst Jiří Pehe says the fears of what Mr. Klaus can do are greatly exaggerated.

Václav Klaus  (left) and Jan Fischer,  photo: CTK
“The Czech Constitution is quite clear in this respect –it says that it is the government that is predominantly responsible for foreign policy and also it is clear that within the context of the European Union it is the prime minister who is responsible for representing the country in the European Council. So in my opinion it is really up to the chief players in Parliament – the Social and Civic Democrats to decide who will represent the Czech Republic and Mr. Klaus does not have much chance of opposing that decision. The worst thing that could happen is the Polish scenario, where the prime minister and the president would both try to be present at a summit but in the end I think the other European leaders understand that it is the prime minister – however inexperienced – who leads the EU delegation or presides over the EU when that country is leading the EU. ”

So who will now decide which summits will be chaired by whom? It was agreed earlier that President Klaus would preside over the EU-Russia summit – what happens now?

Photo: European Commission
“I think there will be meetings, I presume those meetings will be quite civilized and Mr. Klaus will offer to help. I think that his role at the EU-Russia summit is given, as far as the June summit (on the Lisbon treaty and climate change) is concerned that still has to be decided and maybe it will be some kind of cooperation between the prime minister and the president – they may divide their roles and while officially the country is represented by the prime minister Mr. Klaus may have a role to play. At the same time, it is clear that under the Czech Constitution the president is really not responsible for formulating the official stances of the Czech Republic on issues such as global warming or the future of the Lisbon treaty. So Mr. Klaus may voice his personal opinions but the country’s opinion is represented by the government.”

Meaning that he would not have much leverage on the outcome of the summit?

“I think that Mr. Klaus would have almost no leverage on the outcome of the summit and moreover if the fears that he could have some leverage prove justified the EU will find ways to by-pass Mr. Klaus. It has happened in the past and they will simply postpone some of the decisions until the first summit headed by Sweden which is next in line for the EU presidency.”

How do you see the Czech EU presidency at the present time? Is there any chance of salvaging the country’s good reputation in view of all that has come about?

“I am very skeptical. I think that the Czech EU presidency ended on the day that the government fell. That ended the political leadership of the Czech Republic. It is clear that the Czech Republic will continue administering the presidency until the end of June, but politically it has been really marginalized and it will be very difficult to recover any influence on the political leadership in the European Union. That is why I am not too afraid of Mr. Klaus’ role, because I think by now the centre of gravity when it comes to political decisions has moved away from the Czech Republic to Brussels and the big European players - who will do their best to marginalize Mr. Klaus.”