Czech govt to step down before end of EU presidency

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Ousted Czech Prime Minister Mirek Topolánek said his government would step down before the end of the country’s EU presidency in June, with technocrats taking over. Meanwhile, the parliament’s upper house will vote on the Lisbon Treaty by early May and the chances of approval are relatively high, said politicians.

“So far we know the cabinet will leave earlier than at the end of June, we are still discussing the date,” Topolánek said yesterday (31 March), after talks between his three-party coalition and the opposition Social Democrats.

“The [new] government must manage the completion of the Czech [EU] Presidency, which determines the type of people we are looking for,” he said. 

Topolánek said the parties agreed on Tuesday to an opposition demand for a new government of non-politicians to lead the country. “In the name of reaching wide political consensus, we are ready for the creation of a cabinet of non-partisans, with the support of all democratic parties,” he said. 

Social Democrat chief Jiri Paroubek said the parties had moved closer to a final agreement, which he expected by the end of the week.

Martin Bursik, chief of a junior coalition party, the Greens, said there was an agreement that most likely election date was 16-17 October. 

The Czech political crisis is the result of personal rivalries and defections from the government camp over the past months and has less to do with the global financial crisis that felled governments in Hungary and Latvia. 

The country has seen a drop of more than a fifth in industrial output and exports, but its banks have been stable and the currency recovered from losses earlier this year, thanks to low overall debt and low exposure to foreign credit. 

The crown currency firmed after news of the nearing an agreement came out, and traded at 27.3 to the euro in late domestic trading, from 27.46 ahead of the news. 

Showing a willingness to cooperate, the Social Democrats and the coalition led by Topolánek’s right-wing Civic Democrats gave preliminary approval in parliament to opposition-sponsored measures to help ease the impact of the global crisis. None of the politicians involved in the government talks were willing to reveal any names under consideration for the prime minister or other cabinet members. 

A failure of the main parties to reach agreement on a new government now would open the room for President Klaus to appoint a prime minister of his choice who could block the approval of the EU’s Lisbon Treaty, which is meant to streamline decision-making in the bloc.

Lisbon Treaty vote in May

The Czech parliament’s upper house will vote on the treaty by early May, and the chances of approval are relatively high despite last week’s cabinet fall, politicians said yesterday.

The Lisbon Treaty is a sticking point in the Czech Republic, where President Klaus has been on a mission against the document, which he sees as an attack on national sovereignty.

Klaus has wide following in the upper house, or Senate, faction of the ruling right-wing Civic Democrats, whose votes are vital for ratification of the treaty, meant to streamline decision-making in the EU.

(EURACTIV Reuters.)

The Czech Republic has been in political turmoil since a no-confidence vote last week toppled the minority government (EURACTIV 25/03/09). Its collapse has undermined the country's position as the holder of the EU presidency, strengthened the role of Eurosceptic President Václav Klaus, and raised doubts about ratification of the EU's Lisbon Treaty.

The Czech ruling coalition emerged weakened from recent local elections, which changed the balance of power in the senate and weakened the government (EURACTIV 23/10/08). 

Prime Minister Mirek Topolánek's government, which comprises his Civic Democratic Party (ODS), the Christian Democrats (KDU-CSL) and the Greens (SZ), does not have a majority in parliament and relies on a dozen independent MPs to pass its proposals. 

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