Mirek Topolanek is the current Czech prime minister, and he takes over the six-month EU presidency on January 1st, 2009. For the first time leading the Union, the Czechs will have to conquer the hearts and minds of their partners. Many member states think that eurosceptic nationalists will hamper Prague’s European action. With the Lisbon treaty blocked by an institutional stalemate, Mirek Topalanek will have to defend himself from domestic political ambushes, while giving the EU efficient leadership.
Sergio Cantone is euronews’ Brussels Correspondent: “Prime Minister welcome to Euronews, first of all, aren’t you afraid that the tensions among political parties and also institutions in your country will be weakening your position as president of the European Union?”
Mirek Topolanek, Czech Prime Minister: “I don’t think that it would be essentially different in any other country. Next week, I will probably have negotiations with the leader of the opposition and we will find some modus vivendi for the presidency. I believe that we will find an agreement, because it is in the Czech national interest to show we can mediate the European discussion. In that sense, I do not have any worry.”
euronews: “These tensions are within the party, your own party, which is also the party of the president who is claiming himself as a strong eurosceptic, so how will you deal with that?”
MT: “Well, I have to say that my party is not Waclaw Klaus’ party anymore. Waclaw Klaus has irrevocably broken ties with the party that he founded. But this is rather good news than bad, as a president should be above parties. I do not believe that our domestic political scene is worse than in neighbouring countries. And I do not want to give a lecture here about the great coalition in Germany, about the problems in Austria, about the political tensions for instance in Belgium and in all the countries of the European Union. I do not believe that the political discussions and tensions in individual countries should influence the presidency and the reality. And it is not the case.”
euronews: “All the countries that you are mentioning, all these parties and the coalitions, which of course are weak, as you are saying, are all openly pro-European, more or less, rather pro European. This is not the case of the Czech Republic where the struggle between pro-Europeans and eurosceptics is very strong and it is also influencing all the debate concerning the ratification of the treaty, of the Lisbon treaty…”
MT: “That is a little bit of an artificial discussion. I consider myself as very pro-European and yet I have some reservations about the whole range of things that are a reality. And, in the opinion of some, I would be considered a eurosceptic as well. That means that it is an artificial discussion. Czechs are generally very pro-European, certainly more than Austrians or some other nations. The political scene is rather divided about the depth of integration, about the European project as a whole and its further development. Not that they would be against the European Union, against the European Community.
euronews: “And when it comes to your six months presidency of the European Union, aren’t you afraid that the current presidency, the French one, will be trying to, say, overshadow your activity, like for instance this proposal to hold summits in France when it comes to the Eurozone and to financial and economic matters?”
MT: “This would not be for the first time. And it is not only because of a very impulsive and action oriented person, Nicolas Sarkozy. Nicolas really, if there is not a solution within five minutes, then he shows his temperament and he tries to get to the core of the problem. And it does not bother me. I am the same. Nevertheless, the French have always had a tendency to a little bit sort of prolong their presidency.”
euronews: “Do you share the view of the French and other countries that huge controls of the financial market are needed to avoid such a crisis or not?”
MT: “I would say, I share the opinions of those countries that think that the actions should be coordinated, that there could certainly be better control of the derivatives sector to make it safer. It is not only the Czech republic that thinks that very strong national controls should be carried out, that current regulations should be implemented and made more precise rather than introducing a new system.”
euronews: “Don’t you think that European regulations, that a regulation at European level, is badly needed? A strong one… many countries are pushing for that…”
MT: “I evidently think that the European Union is suffering from over-regulation. There are voices heard at the European Council saying that the whole policy of Barroso, of Barroso’s commission – better regulation – is wrong. And here, we’ll evidently get into a controversy because I don’t believe this. I really believe that the financial crisis is something that Europe hasn’t seen since the 1930s, but equally that we cannot break all the rules.”
euronews: “How do you think that the European union will have to deal with Russia in these six months during your presidency? First of all will you work with the US for the creation of this anti-missile shield?”
MT: “Evidently, the potential building of a base on Czech territory worsened relations between the Czech Republic and Russia, but the Russians admit that if it were not the Czech Republic, they wouldn’t have such a problem with it. So it’s largely a geopolitical problem. So much more it is a priority for us, even though I don’t consider the six-point plan that Sarkozy agreed on with the Russians is entirely successful, I’m for opening a discussion with the Russians that actually has already started in Geneva. Russia cannot be out of the discussion and we cannot accept that the discussion won’t continue. On the other hand with our experience, the last Soviet soldier left our territory on 30th June 1991. Everybody must understand our worries on energy, on foreign policy, on geopolitics; that’s why it is good to be in the European Union.”