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Czechs labeled EU ‘trouble-makers’

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The Czech Republic is acquiring the reputation of a trouble-maker just two and a half months before it is due to take over the EU presidency. Much of the blame for this label lies with France, which currently holds the presidency. On Wednesday before the EU summit in Brussels, Czech officials, including Mirek Topolánek, were among the biggest critics of the state-funded aid to banks in some European countries. This package of emergency measures had already been approved within the eurozone and became the key topic of the meeting of the 27 EU countries.

AFP news agency even quoted a high-ranking French official,who said it wasn’t necessary to pay attention to the Czech stance when approving the package of anti-crisis measures. The source said gaining approval from 26 member countries would have been sufficient. And yet the French and the Czechs should be coordinating their positions because, along with Sweden, they form a trio of countries holding the presidency back to back. But information from the Wednesday meeting suggests there is much tension between France and the Czech Republic.

The question remains whether the “information leak” to AFP was merely a threat intended to tone down the Czech position in preparation for the summit in Brussels. It was not the first time that an EU country was pushed aside like this. Former diplomat Petr Ježek, who now works in the consulting company BXL, mentioned in an interview with E15 the situation in 1990 when British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher refused to take part in the discussion on a common currency. Italian Prime Minister Giulio Andreotti, who at time presided over the European Commission, was able to push through a policy that made it possible to ignore the British position.

According to sources in Brussels Czech officials Wednesday were trying to get the EC Directorate General for Competition to evaluate the anti-crisis measures. International press quoted Czech ambassador Milena Vicenová: “Even in difficult situations, we need to adhere to rules.”

In the last few days, Topolánek criticised the 100% guarantee of bank deposits introduced by some EU counties.

“The Czech position seems shrewish and is not forward-looking,” said Petr Zahradník, who is in charge of European affairs at Česká spořitelna. Zahradník said he doesn’t see what exactly Czech officials are trying to achieve, aside from wanting to demonstrate that the Czech Republic disagrees with everyone else. The only thing Zahradník agrees with is the concern that big countries will be able to sidestep the rules of the Growth and Stability Pact that set budget deficit limits.

According to Petr Ježek, “a country that thwarts efforts to reach a compromise can expect to meet similar difficulties from other countries when it takes up the presidency and needs to find compromises”. But requesting that the anti-crisis measures be in agreement with competition rules, according to Ježek, is “not an unwise move”. Commissioner Neelie Kroes warned that disregarding the rules of fair competition could lead to chaos.

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