The Czech EU presidency together with Topolánek’s government is in a serious condition and in need of a breathing apparatus after Tuesday’s no-confidence vote. It is not for the first time in history a government fell when holding the EU presidency, but the timing has never been so bad.
“The timing is terrible. A deep economic crisis, the end of the EU Parliament term, the EU Commission’s weak position. The chances of resolving major issues have decreased for the Czech presidency; the Czech government’s fall is going to make the entire EU weaker,” said Brussels analyst Piotr Kaczyński Tuesday.
PM Mirek Topolánek said complications may occur: “I think it could waken our position in the EU. We tend to negotiate hard. But our administration is prepared well enough to handle that job.”
It is Topolánek who is going to defend EU interests at a key G20 summit in London next week and then with US President Barack Obama, but the Czech position within the team of European delegates will be weaker due to Tuesday’s government collapse.
“Of course, the position will be weaker. The depth of this weakness depends on what will happen in the next few hours, what the president will do and if the parties are able to reach some sort of consensus. Some European institutions may certainly try to fill in empty spot left by the Czechs,” said former EU Commissioner Pavel Telička.
Russian political analyst Nikolaj Zlobin believes the Czech government’s fall plays into the hands of Russia. “Moscow will doubt the legitimacy of the EU leadership. They will, without any doubts, use the situation to discredit the EU and delay EU talks,” said Zlobin.
Hope still exists
The fall of the government does not mean the Czech EU presidency has to fail completely. Only it will be more difficult.
“The resigning government can do a good job as as EU president because the problems it is dealing with are related to all of Europe. Of course, it is a complication,” said Deputy Foreign Affairs Minister and former Czech ambassador to Brussels Jan Kohout. “Success depends to some extent on diplomats and officials, and they will continue their work,” said Telička.
But many foreign correspondents consider the Czech EU presidency to be weak, and now it will get even worse. Several Czech diplomats, most of whom have been preparing the first ever Czech EU presidency for many years, almost ended in tears on Tuesday.
A laughing stock
“Our possibilities of achieving goals will be rather limited. We are going to finish what we started and finalise our legislative proposals, but we can hardly expect any major achievements. It is a shame. We are a laughing stock for everyone,” said an official who refused to disclose his name.
Jiří Paroubek’s fifth attempt to bring down the government on Tuesday was not taken very seriously in Brussels. Foreign diplomats were therefore quite surprised when the news came in the evening.
The Germans especially are concerned what the government’s fall and chaos surrounding the Czech political scene may do to Lisbon Treaty ratification, which is a key issue for them. The EU Commission took almost an hour before it released its well-considered statement.
It says that “it maintains full trust that the Czech law would allow the country to continue conducting its EU presidency as effectively as it has done until now”. However, the commissions’ leading officials began to recall what steps had been taken in similar situations in the past.
The EU experienced political reshuffling during EU presidency “primetime” a number of times in the 1990s. The Danes had a weak moment in 1993. In 1995, presidential elections were held during the French presidency, and the Italians took over the presidency in 1996 under their caretaker government. All of them were considered below average EU leaderships.