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Klaus throws away shackles in fighting EU

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Those who warned against electing Václav Klaus as Czech president in February can say: “Told you so.” They said Klaus would become more combative in the second term (his last) especially when it comes to the European Union. That is exactly what’s happening at the moment. Klaus, no longer limited by his endeavour to be re-elected, has thrown away his shackles.

He chose his battle with the EU to be the main theme of his last days. And he does not mind in the least the fact that it made him an object of mockery or raised eyebrows. The last occasion was his meeting with the leader of Irish Eurosceptics, Declan Ganley, when he declared them both to be EU dissidents. He angered the Irish government and became an object of interest of all European media.

Klaus’ appearance as a Lisbon Treaty opponent in front of the Constitutional Court was only the latest pinnacle of his fight. Even though he lost, he’s not giving up. The president, who will be at the castle for another four years, has already come up with another idea for troubling the EU. He said he would only sign the Lisbon Treaty after Ireland says yes. “This is a great stretching of the constitution, I’d say he’s almost crossed the line,” says Jan Kysela, a constitutional law expert. It is hard to tell whether Klaus would dare make similar threat were he only serving his first term.

Klaus’ attitude is not only a source of entertainment for foreign journalists; it also managed to anger the Czech government on a number of occasions (whether the cabinet was led by Jiří Paroubek or Mirek Topolánek). In April this year, Klaus criticised Topolánek cabinet’s decision to acknowledge the independence of Kosovo. He left for a state visit to Serbia a few days ago, by the way. Topolánek was even more infuriated in August when Klaus, like one of few politicians in the whole world, backed Russia in the Georgian conflict. Because of his controversial attitude, Klaus has not received an official invitation for a visit to the US, France, Germany or Great Britain. He visited Russia a number of times, though.

Despite wild shots such as Georgia, the EU remains Klaus’ pet topic. He has not been hiding his opinions for long, calling himself a Eurosceptic already in the 1990s. In order not to stand alone, he is currently trying to transplant his ideas at least onto the ODS, which has never supported European integration. This shows in his attempt to intervene in the internal affairs of the party. And since he has been partly successful, the Lisbon Treaty became one of the main topics of the approaching party congress. Klaus has chosen Prague Mayor Pavel Bém as an intermediary for his opinions. Bém would like to become the new party leader at the December congress.

But there is one problem. Bém was never interested in the EU. The first time he mentioned it was in August this year. Partly because the journalists had not asked him before but partly also because he had no need to talk about it.

He will be opposed by the current party leader who, on the contrary, supports the treaty. It was him who signed it as a Prime Minister.

In a week’s time, the congress will help determine who’s no top. If Topolánek, the current favourite, wins, the Czech Republic will continue its journey westwards like the Prime Minister promises. And Klaus will stand even more alone with his opinions.

Translated with permission by the Prague Daily Monitor.

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