January 04, 2009
The European Union’s new figurehead believes that climate change is a dangerous myth and has compared the union to a Communist state.
The views of President Vaclav Klaus of the Czech Republic, 67, have left the government of Mirek Topolanek, his bitter opponent, determined to keep him as far away as possible from the EU presidency, which it took over from France yesterday.
The Czech president, who caused a diplomatic incident by dining with opponents of the EU?s Lisbon treaty on a recent visit to Ireland, has a largely ceremonial role.
But there are already fears that, after the dynamic EU presidency of Nicolas Sarkozy – including his hyper-active attempts at international diplomacy over the credit crisis and Georgia as well as an historic agreement to cut greenhouse gases – the Czech effort will be mired in infighting and overshadowed by the platform it will give to Mr Klaus and his controversial views.
Tensions recently erupted between Mr Klaus and Brussels when a private meeting with senior MEPs descended into a slanging match after they presented him with an EU flag and said that they were not interested in his Eurosceptic views.
Mr Klaus responded: ?No one has spoken to me in this style and tone in my six years here. I thought these methods ended for us 18 years ago. I see I was wrong.?
This led to a counter-attack from Mr Sarkozy in the European Parliament. He told MEPs: ?The president of the European Parliament should not be treated like this and Europe?s symbols should not be treated like this, whatever people?s political engagement.?
Mr Klaus returned to the row over Christmas in a Czech television interview. ?I dare say that these people represent the height of anti-Europeanism. They have absolutely no right to wave Europe in front of our face,? he said.
There has been further sniping, not least from the French, that the Czechs do not have the clout or the capability to lead the EU as it faces the key challenge of the financial crisis. Mr Sarkozy has threatened to convene meetings of the 16 member states of the Euro during the Czech presidency because the Czechs do not have the single currency.
Nor does Mr Sarkozy believe Prague has the ability to deal with an increasingly restive Russia, which is threatening an arms race over US plans for missile defence radar in the Czech Republic.
The Czechs are also one of just three EU states not to have passed the controversial Lisbon treaty, which has enraged Mr Sarkozy after his drive to revive the document. Mr Klaus continues to lead Czech opposition to a treaty he likens to Communist centralism.
He is undeniably popular with Czech voters, having been Prime Minister from 1992-97, overseeing the harmonious break-up with Slovakia, and president since 2003. An economist who spent much of his working life at the Czechoslovak State Bank during the Iron Curtain years, he became active in politics as a champion of free market economics after 1989 and is said to keep a photo of Lady Thatcher, who he greatly admires, on his desk.
?The fact that Klaus holds these views makes it difficult to run the presidency,? said Robin Shepherd, senior fellow for Europe at the Chatham House think-tank.
?Klaus is not the head of government…but he is the public face of the Czech Republic.?
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