Pessimism reigns as interim Czech PM is appointed

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Czech President Václav Klaus, whose country holds the rotating presidency of the EU, yesterday (9 April) appointed economist Jan Fischer as prime minister, ahead of early elections due in October. But analysts and politicians predicted difficult times ahead. EURACTIV Czech Republic and EURACTIV France contributed to this article.

Fischer will start constituting his team of ministers after the Easter holiday and ask the Chamber of Deputies for a vote of confidence. The cabinet is to assume power on May 9 under a cross-party agreement which is expected to secure broad support in Parliament.

The two rival parties — the current centre-right coalition and the leftist opposition Social Democrats — jointly command a comfortable majority of 149 votes in the 200-seat lower chamber.

The scheduled handover to Fischer should allow Mirek Topolánek, the prime-minister-in-resignation, to chair the EU’s May 7 summit in Prague, during which EU leaders are to launch the so-called Eastern Partnership initiative aimed at bringing six ex-Soviet countries closer to the EU.

The deal also appears to allow eurosceptic President Václav Klaus to chair the June EU summit, where Ireland is expected to report on plans to hold a second referendum on the Lisbon Treaty.

Fischer’s cabinet of unaffiliated experts will mainly be asked to complete the Czech EU presidency in the first half of 2009, prepare the state budget for 2010 and introduce anti-crisis measures. “This will not be a government of visions, but one of hard work, where we will often be completing tasks started by others,” Fischer said.

Early elections are due in October. However, if parliamentary parties failed to agree on a new government after the early elections quickly, Fischer’s cabinet would continue to rule in resignation.

The transition at the top of the Czech government raised concerns in Brussels about whether the country was still fit to assume its six-month rotating presidency of the EU. “The Czech Presidency is only at the mid point of its term and we expect the new government to assume fully all its duties as head of the Council of the European Union,” said Joseph Daul, Chairman of the EPP-ED, the center-right group which is currently the largest in the European Parliament.

‘Totally irrational’

Cyril Svoboda, minister of regional development in the Czech government-in-resignation, did little to reassure sceptics. Speaking to EURACTIV France, he described the political situation in his country as “totally irrational”.

According to Svoboda, the Czech Republic is still technically fit to chair the EU, but politically, he admitted the task was now “difficult”. 

“We have lost confidence,” he said.

Svoboda is from the Christian-Democrat party (KDU-CSL), a junior partner in the coalition led by Mirek Topolánek’s right-wing Civic Democrat party (ODS). The KDU-CSL decided not to be part of the current attempts to form a new government coalition between the ODS and the leftist opposition Social Democrats (CSSD). 

“My party decided to leave this coalition, because we should be free and independent ahead of the early elections,” Svoboda said. 

Pessimism on Lisbon Treaty’s ratification 

As for the Lisbon Treaty, which is currently stuck in the Senate, Svoboda said this was “the most serious problem”. 

Some Senators have linked the Lisbon Treaty to the ratification of a separate agreement with the US to install a radar shield system, making the EU ratification process uncertain (EURACTIV 19/03/09).

“There is today a process of victimisation of the treaty. We need to accomplish the ratification process in the Senate and to have a constitutional majority. But I think it will be difficult to convince all senators from the liberal, Christian, and social-democrat sector and to establish this majority, which doesn’t exist today,” Svoboda said.

Václav Klaus, the Czech President, is against the treaty he will sign it off if the bill passes through Senate, the Czech politician said. He added that he expected the vote to take place in May.

The Czech Republic was thrown into political turmoil last month when the minority government of Czech Prime Minister Mirek Topolánek was ousted by a vote of no-confidence in parliament (EURACTIV 25/03/09). 

The government's collapse has undermined the country's position as holder of the EU presidency, strengthened the role of eurosceptic President Václav Klaus, and raised doubts about ratification of the EU's Lisbon Treaty. 

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 had relied on a dozen independent MPs to pass its proposals. 

The new majority now consists of rival parties ODS and the Social Democrats (CSSD). 

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