Czechs take the EU helm

The Czech Republic took over the EU presidency on Jan. 1 amid much speculation over what Europe can expect from eurosceptic Czech President Vaclav Klaus and a nation that still questions whether its interests are best served by EU membership.



While French President Nicolas Sarkozy brought new energy to the EU presidency with his hands-on approach, many Europeans are expecting the Czechs to be less than enthusiastic.

A member of the European Union since 2004, the Czech Republic still suffers from the “small country” complex: that sneaking suspicion that the EU’s major powers will forever dominate affairs in Brussels.

But there is another, historical reason for Czech hesitation vis a vis Europe. First with the Munich Agreement in 1938, and then again with the Soviet invasion of Prague in 1968, the Czechs have watched their interests – and their sovereignty – become a pawn in the larger European endgame being played out around them. 




An anti-European president for Europe?

Czech President Vaclav Klaus is a notorious eurosceptic who views the EU government in Brussels as a threat to the Czechs’ hard-won national sovereignty, gained only in 1989 after more than 40 years of Soviet domination.

Content to present himself as a dissident within the European Union, Klaus has already made it clear that he expects plenty of interference from Brussels and the major European powers as Prague takes its turn at the helm of the EU’s six-month rotating presidency.





“I hope the Czech presidency won’t completely be staged from outside by foreign directors,” Klaus told a recent press conference in Prague. “I hope it will really be our presidency.”

Although the presidential post is largely honorific, with the real business of government handled by Prime Minister Mirek Topolanek, Klaus’ strong views on Europe and his outspoken manner have already gone a long way toward setting the tone for the Czechs’ EU leadership.



Outside the eurozone, looking in

Most Czech businesses want to join the eurozone, but the government is worried that while businesses may benefit, consumers could lose out. Czech Finance Minister Miroslav Kalousek says the country won’t be ready to adopt the European single currency until 2013, although the date of adoption will not be announced until November.

Neighbouring Slovakia, the Czechs' sister nation in the former Czechoslovakia, joined the eurozone on January 1, and it is likely Prague will be watching with interest what happens next door in the coming months.





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