EU Nightmare Coming True

That nightmare is having Václav Klaus, noted euroskeptic, functioning as president of the EU. His country, the Czech Republic, does indeed hold the six-month rotating EU presidency until the end of June, and with the fall of the Czech government of prime minister Mirek Topolánek in the last week of March through the passage of a no-confidence motion in the lower house of the Czech parliament the props were kicked out from under the Czech politician who most people assumed was actually responsible for conducting that EU presidency. Now that Obama has left Prague so that inter-government discord need no longer be swept under the carpet, Klaus has announced a plan to do away entirely with Topolánek as head of the government by stating that he is in favor instead of having a caretaker government of non-political experts installed to run the country until early elections can be held next October. That is perfectly within his right – in fact, in these circumstances it is his very function – as Czech president, and the new prime minister he prefers is Jan Fischer, who currently is chairman of the Czech Statistical Agency. Tereza Nosálková and Petra Pospĕchová of Hospoářské noviny have an excellent analysis of what all this means, especially to the EU in their article Fear of Klaus transforms Europe’s timetable.

The central fact in all of this is that the Czech constitution simply does not specify who should be in charge – i.e. the president or the prime minister – when the Czech Republic has to handle the EU presidency, and of course this is the first time that country has been called upon to do so. (Considering how things are turning out, the EU might be tempted to find some way also to make it the last time, whether that’s through the ratification of the Lisbon Treaty or some other measure.) So far the going assumption was that that was the prime minister, provided that he headed a government that had the confidence of the legislature. That is no longer the case, although Topolánek is at least still around, simply because he has not yet been replaced, to try to run things even in his weakened political state.

But that will cease to be true around the end of the first week of May, Nosálková and Pospĕchová report, which is when planning calls for Fischer to be sworn in as Czech prime minister (if the required political support – meaning a vote of approval by the lower house of the legislature – is forthcoming). Handily, Fischer himself already shows clear signs of hardly being so ready to oppose President Klaus’ ambitions to take charge of EU policy at that point; as he stated to the HN reporters “It’s not yet agreed who will carry out the function of EU president. But there’s a first time for everything.”

Clearly, then, that end-of-first-week-of-May point might very well mark an important watershed between a period in which Klaus has great but not exclusive influence on Czech policy towards the EU (i.e. he still has to struggle against the politically-discredited but still-in-office Topolánek regime) and a period until the end of the Czech presidency at the end of June when he has untrammeled control. The HN reports lay out a handy scheme of the upcoming important EU events occuring in each of those periods:

During Topolánek

  • Ecofin meeting (i.e. meeting of the EU member-state finance ministers)
  • EU-Canada summit
  • Summit to found the EU’s so-called “Eastern Partnership” with six post-Soviet states: Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Moldava, and the Ukraine. The purpose of this “partnership” is to offer support to the development of democracy and free-market economies in these countries – that is, as Nosálková and Pospĕchová rightly point out, to counteract Russian influence in them.
  • Adjournment of the European Parliament, preliminary to the MEP elections coming up in June.

After Topolánek

  • EU-Russia summit (quite curious, this, coming after that previous “Eastern Partnership” founding summit)
  • EU-China summit, to actually take place in Prague
  • A European Council (i.e. summit of all EU heads-of-government), whose main task is supposed to be agreeing with the Irish on the date and the practicalities about having a second referendum on the Lisbon Treaty (you’ll recall that the Irish gave the “wrong” answer by rejecting the Treaty in a June 2008 referendum; now they are to be given another chance to give the “right” answer)
  • Various yet-to-be-confirmed summits: EU-South Korea, EU-Pakistan, even possibly another EU-USA summit

The important list, of course, is the second one, namely of important EU events which, as things stand, look like they will be chaired and run by the Czech president, who makes no secret of his disdain for the EU. But Klaus reserves his contempt in particular for the Lisbon Treaty, which he has stated he will only sign if both houses of the Czech parliament ratify it (only the lower has done so far) and the Irish have ratified it already.

Imagine, then, next June’s important European Council meeting, charged with arranging the second Irish referendum, run by a figure who has a publicly-stated conviction against any Lisbon Treaty ratification, meaning against any second Irish referendum! Already many top EU officials can see that particular disaster coming down the road and are trying to come up with ways to avoid it. As Nosálková and Pospĕchová report, there is a plan taking shape to gut that June European Council meeting of any real significance – to make it merely naoko, or “for show” – and schedule the serious European Council for the following month, by which time Sweden will have taken over the EU presidency and serious work can resume.

Clearly they’re getting desperate with this – imagine holding that European Council in June with everybody knowing that it’s just a sham, something that has to be scheduled and run because it is on the calendar, but with at the same time a conscious attempt not to allow it to do any useful work, because of the objectionable nature of the meeting’s chairman! But that’s the solution that seems to be taking shape, if we go by this HN reporting (and I’ve also seen it mentioned elsewhere).

I think this might be the point to bring into the discussion an article/interview I came upon a few weeks ago (h/t to the new blog Poland in the EU) which advances the possibility that, somehow, Czech President Václav Klaus is actually some sort of Russian tool. As incredible as it may seem, when you think about how the 67-year-old Klaus lived most his life in a country under Soviet domination and then occupation, it is not inconceivable that at some point the Russians got ahold of some seriously embarrassing or incriminating material that enabled them to manipulate him. (See that interview for further bits of evidence that Klaus has been extremely friendly to the Russians as president.) Whatever is the case, for anyone who believes in the EU the frantic contortions it seems like it will have to put itself through to rid itself of the baleful effects of this pest are sad to see.

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