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Czech PM optimistic despite anti-missile debate

Czech PM optimistic despite anti-missile debate
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Czech Prime Minister Mirek Topolanek has finally managed to form a government, after seven months of trying, but only because of two opposition defections and he remains beset by other problems. Plans to base part of a US anti-missile defence system in the Czech Republic have drawn criticism from those who fear it will make it a potential target. And the German EU presidency would like Prague to move forward on the EU constitution. But, speaking to EuroNews, Topolanek sounded optimistic about the future of his country, which is now firmly inside the EU.

EuroNews: “Just after your government received a vote of confidence in parliament, you made a statement saying that talks with Washington would continue over hosting part of a US anti-missile defence system. Why was it so important to say this right away?”

Topolanek: “This anti-missile defence act was already passed by the Clinton administration. And it stipulated the response to new threats that exist, including the anti-missile defence system. So it’s been being prepared for a number of years. And actually it is not just an American plan, but rather it’s part of long-term NATO policy, and even part of Russian policy as well. So it’s not a new thing, but there’s this anti-American sentiment among some Europeans which is stirring things up.”

EuroNews: “It’s just that, there have been some articles saying that Russia has said that such a defence system here in Central Europe could alter the military balance in Europe and could possibly start a new arms race. How do you respond to that?”

Topolanek: “I don’t think we should be concerned about what Russia’s Defence Minister Sergei Ivanov and Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov say or what other Russian military leaders say. It’s something that the Czech Republic and Central Europe is very sensitive to and that is that Russia fears that it may lose influence in this part of Europe. I see a major difference between the SS20 missiles with nuclear heads aimed at European cities and a passive defence anti-missile system against rogue states and Hezbollah and other movements. So there is indeed this difference between attack and defence systems – a defence system to protect not only Europe, but Russia as well”.

EuroNews: “After meeting with German Chancellor Merkel on 26 January, you said that the EU constitution should be more comprehensible, more transparent and should not disqualify the newer EU members. What do you mean by disqualify?”

Topolanek: “The new member states still don’t enjoy freedom of movement or free access to the labour markets within the European Union. And I could give you other examples of disqualification where the new EU members don’t have the same rights, even though they are not a threat. They don’t even enjoy the four fundamental rights that the older members enjoy. One typical example of this (disqualification) is the Galileo European satellite navigation project. The European Commission had implied that the project’s new headquarters would be in a new EU member state. But at the last Council meeting, we were made to understand that this was not definite, and this is the type of treatment which we are very sensitive to.”

EuroNews: “Does this type of (comment) – when you talk about not disqualifying the new EU members – does this lead a bit to why you and your political party have been labelled as eurosceptic? Do you think that’s fair?

Topolanek: “I find this label very insulting and just not true and I think the aim of it is to try and silence those who criticise anything that the European Union does wrong. If it had not been for the votes of people who support my political party, we might not even have joined the European Union. And the Czech Republic becoming part of the EU has been anything but negative for the older member states. On the contrary, it’s been positive and even with this, they want to dictate what type of social and pension and health programmes we should have. That’s not acceptable for us. We think that the European “welfare state” system is completely outdated and cannot work in the 21st century.”

EuroNews: “After seven long months of political instability, your country now has a stable government. What are your priorities and what is your priority, especially with regard to Europe?”

Topolanek: “First, during these seven months, there was a government and it did govern. Regarding European Union priorities; well, we are at this time a typical European country and I don’t have a specific priority for the EU, because we resolve problems on a daily basis just like the other countries. But if there is one priority I have, it’s to prepare our country for when we’ll hold the EU presidency early in 2009. That will be a test and proof that we are a “typical” European country capable of handling and resolving issues with our European colleagues.”