Euro-sceptic incumbent Václav Klaus was re-elected as President of the Czech Republic on Friday (15 February), a development which was officially welcomed by the European Commission less than a year before the country takes its turn at the EU’s helm.
Klaus, a conservative, was re-elected by Parliament for a five-year term by 141 votes against 111 for Jan Švejnar, a US citizen seen as a pro-European who teaches economics at the University of Michigan.
Commission President José Manuel Barroso sent Klaus his “warmest congratulations”, saying he looked forward to working with the President “towards building the European project”.
“Your election comes at a crucial time, as the Czech Republic is preparing to take over the Presidency of the Council of the European Union in 2009,” Barroso said in a statement. “I hope for your commitment to our joint effort in preserving European values and tackling the challenges Europe faces today.”
Klaus has frequently opposed giving up competencies to the EU, which he sees as too “centralised”. He had been a vociferous opponent of the EU’s doomed constitutional treaty and has likewise adopted a hard line during talks on its successor, the Treaty of Lisbon (EURACTIV 18/04/07). Klaus also made headlines for stating that global warming is a “myth” at a time when the EU is making the fight against climate change its top political priority.
The centre-right EPP-ED, the largest political group in the European Parliament, defended Klaus’s record as a believer in the European project, recalling that it was his government that introduced the Czech Republic’s application for EU membership in the nineties.
“Long discussions and political negotiating are now over and we are glad that the Czech Republic finally has a president,” said MEP Joseph Daul, chairman of the EPP-ED group.
Recalling that Klaus’s candidacy had been backed by two EPP-ED members – the Civic Democratic Party (ODS) and a large majority of the Christian Democrats – Daul said his group was “ready to co-operate with [Klaus] and Mirek Topolánek’s government to prepare for the Czech Presidency in the first half of 2009.”
The Czech president’s role is largely ceremonial as the prime minister is in charge of running the country. However, he has the power to veto laws by sending them back to parliament and also appoints the central bankers and judges.