EU PRESIDENCY

Czech PM refutes 'eurosceptic' label

Czech Prime Minister Mirek Topolanek, who took over the EU presidency on January 1, denied Prague's reputation for euroscepticism in a policy speech before the EU Parliament, outlining his country's plans for its six-month mandate.

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AFP- Czech Prime Minister Mirek Topolanek, whose country holds the EU's rotating presidency, sounded doubts on Wednesday about the bloc's beleaguered Lisbon treaty of reforms.

"It's an average treaty, a bit better than the (existing) Nice treaty. Personally that's how I see things," he said during his first address to the European Parliament since taking on the EU's presidency.

"For me it's a difficult compromise," he added.

Despite his lukewarm stance towards the treaty, he said that he had negotiated and signed it and would therefore vote for it in the Czech parliament.

"But telling member states in advance that they have to ratify the treaty and ... that they don't have the right ... to decide whether to approve it or not is absurd," Topolanek said.

The fate of the treaty, which has to be ratified by all 27 EU countries to enter force, has been in doubt since Irish voters rejected it in a referendum in June last year.

Topolanek said that "if a referendum were called in the Czech Republic, the Lisbon treaty would also not be accepted."

The Czech Republic is the last EU country that has not yet given its word on the treaty with Czech parliamentarians, who are deeply divided over the matter, due to vote on it February 3 followed by the Senate later.

If approved by both houses, the country's deeply eurosceptic president, Vaclav Klaus, has to sign off on the treaty, which he has said that he will delay as much as possible.

Topolanek told EU lawmakers that he would maintain talks with Irish leaders about the treaty's future.

Ireland promised its EU partners last month to hold a new referendum on the treaty by November 2009 after securing assurances that Ireland would be able to keep a European commissioner's post.

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