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LOOKING AHEAD
15.05.2009

May 10, 2009 (the date of publication in Russian)

Grigory Tinsky

THE SICK CAPTAIN OF THE EUROPEAN SHIP. Part 2

The EU will be chaired by a convinced Eurosceptic

Part 1: http://www.rpmonitor.ru/en/en/detail.php?ID=13999

THE ENDLESS SEARCH FOR "KREMLIN AGENTS"

Due to the domestic economic and political brawl, Czech Republic has lost its potential of diplomacy that had been feeble already before. At the time when Topolanek's government was granted EU chairmanship, this Brussels gift was seen as a card advance. Today, after the government's fall, Czech Republic reminds a player of a school soccer team erroneously appointed captain of the league of champions' team. Not surprisingly, other players treat the squirt with scarcely disguised exasperation. Only 7 of 27 states were represented, for instance, at the recent EU Informal Meeting of Ministers for Regional Development, organized in Prague.

The absurdity of Czech chairmanship in the EU is emphasized with the fact that since May 8, the post of EU chairman is nominally occupied by Czech President Vaclav Klaus, known as a convinced Eurosceptic. Though Klaus is going to stay in this position only till July 1, he will perform as the chairman of the European community at such significant events as the EU-Russia, EU-China, and EU-Japan summits. Mr. Klaus will also chair the EU meeting with the leadership of South Korea.

Mr. Klaus has already interfered in the supposedly crucial summit of the Eastern Partnership, disavowing the invitation sent to this event to Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko. Though the Belarusian leader was officially invited by Czech Foreign Minister Karel Schwarzenberg, Mr. Klaus declared that in case the "dictator" appears in Prague, he will reject his handshake in public. Characterizing the Czech president as a "boor", Lukashenko neglected the event. In its turn, Schwarzenberg's office suspected that Klaus was thus "services Kremlin's interests".

 

THE PARTY OF "KICKING TUPS"

Still, the most "high wire act" for Mr. Klaus is the EU summit in Brussels. At this event in June, Ireland is expected to schedule a new referendum on Lisbon Treaty. The first Irish referendum in 2007, in which the majority rejected the all-European constitutional document, was cheered by Mr. Klaus: "Ireland was the only European country where people were allowed to express their view. To my mind, the result is clear: this is a triumph of victory and reason over artificial elitist projects of the European bureaucracy".

Since that time, Klaus' opinion on the Lisbon treaty has not changed. Moreover, it developed into an elaborated political program. The Czech President has since allied with Irish billionaire Declan Ganley, whose Libertas movement played the key role in the failure of the vote in Dublin. The alliance materialized in the foundation of a clone of Libertas in Prague, dubbed Free Citizens Party, which campaigns against Czech entry in the eurozone and ratification of the Lisbon Treaty. The new party's logo depicts a kicking tup. Despite reluctance of Vaclav Klaus to chair the party personally, and despite the elected FCP chairman Peter Mach's categorical denial of financial dependence from Mr. Ganley, its connection with Libertas is proven with presence of Klaus's son in the FCP board and joint events of the "fraternal" political forces. FCP also campaigns for relief of the tax burden, downsizing of state bureaucracy, and combating pollution of the environment. The party is going to demonstrate its strength in the 2009 elections of the European Parliament.

Therefore, the Brussels summit may transform into a political show with hardly predictable implications.

Summarizing the past four-month period of Czech chairmanship in the EU, analysts admit that Prague's performance as the European ship's captain was poor also under Topolanek's leadership.

Between January and April 2009, the European Union failed to elaborate a unified approach to the global financial crisis. In this issue, the existing contradictions between the "old Europe" and the new EU members sparked an open collision, provoked by the protectionist policy of French President Nicolas Sarkozy who refused to provide assistance to foreign corporations represented in many EU states.

Mr. Topolanek's failure to grasp the essence of the Russian-Ukrainian gas conflict prevented him from performing as an authoritative arbitrator of the debate, while the subsequent EC decision to modernize the Ukrainian gas transit network without Russia's involvement aroused dissent not only in Moscow but also in the headquarters of major European energy corporations, while the leaders of Germany and Italy insisted that Russia participate in the modernization effort. Lack of diplomatic experience nullified Czech role in the Mideast settlement after the Israeli assault on Gaza.

The program of Czech's chairmanship in the EU for the first half of the year was symbolized with "three E" – Economy, Energy, and Europe in the World. In fact, the Czech-steered EU failed to achieve even a bit of progress on any of the three directions.

 

NEW SCANDALS ON THE HORIZON?

The irony of the situation with Czech chairmanship is that this unhappy selection serves as one more proof of the instability of the European construction on the model of the Nice Treaty. It is now obvious that ratification of the Lisbon Treaty, suggesting creation of the post of EU President, would make the Union much more stable. But Czech Republic, Poland and Ireland have not yet signed the constitutional document because of political brawl and the Eurosceptic views of Vaclav Klaus.

One more intrigue, associated with the May EU summit which inaugurated the Eastern Partnership project, revealed Czech Republic's weakness as well. The agenda of the Partnership, suggesting financial and consultative assistance to six post-Soviet states in order to tie up those states to EU, aroused protests from Moscow. However, the relevant negotiations with Russia were held not by the Czech diplomats but by Poland's Foreign Minister Radoslav Sikorski who arrived in Moscow on May 5. Formally, his trip was explained with the preparation of Vladimir Putin's visit to Warsaw on the occasion of the 70th anniversary of the onset of World War II. Still, it is hard to imagine that this expected meeting needed to be urgently discussed four months before this date.

It was perfectly clear that the discussion of Putin's visit to Poland was only a pretext for negotiations between Russia and one of the initiators of the Eastern Partnership, and that the real message of Warsaw was to assure Moscow that the Partnership was not a deliberate challenge to Russian interests.

The reluctance of the such leaders as French President Nicolas Sarkozy, as well as the Prime Ministers of Great Britain, Italy, Spain, and Austria to take part in the Prague event on May 7 served as an additional evidence of deficiency of the Czech chairmanship in the EU. This indifference of the European leaders was interpreted in mass media as a demonstrative gesture of "affront" to Prague.

In his turn, Vaclav Klaus demonstratively refused to sign the Lisbon Treaty, though the Czech Parliament had just ratified the document. This move contributed to Czech Republic's discredit within the EU.

The prospects of the four oncoming events – the June summit of the EU, as well as the EU-Russia, EU-China and EU-Japan summit meetings – are now perfectly unclear. Still, there is no doubt that the period of Czech chairmanship will be remembered as an era of scandals, disarray and diplomatic impotence of Europe.


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