February 14, 2012 6:46 pm

Czech group warns Prague of isolation from EU

The Czech government’s decision to sit out the eurozone's fiscal pact together with the UK is coming under fire within the country, as pro-EU forces warn that the Czech Republic could be marginalising itself by resisting the treaty.

A petition signed by 300 public figures, including the brother of Václav Havel, the recently deceased former Czech president, cautioned Petr Nečas, prime minister, saying: “We believe that [by] rejecting the treaty, the Czech Republic quite unnecessarily excludes itself from the mainstream of European integration.”

Mr Nečas, a fiscal conservative but generally seen as pro-EU, refused to sign the pact last month because of worries over a drift towards “fiscal federalism” and concern that the Czech Republic would not gain much of a voice in the eurozone if it did join.

Even if Mr Nečas signed the treaty, it would face an almost-certain veto from Václav Klaus, the president and an ardent foe of closer European integration.

In a recent newspaper interview Mr Klaus said: “Another radical step towards European integration – a transition from a monetary to a fiscal union – is a tragic mistake.”

Mr Klaus added: “The formation of the monetary union was a tragic mistake, too, which nearly everybody knows now.”

Mr Klaus, who founded Mr Nečas’s Civic Democratic party in the 1990s, still commands enormous loyalty within the party and could cause the prime minister trouble if he bucks the president’s wishes.

However, Mr Nečas is also facing strains within his centre-right governing coalition, as leaders of the centrist TOP 09 party are pushing hard for the Czech Republic to join with the rest of the EU and sign the pact.

Karel Schwarzenberg, foreign minister and TOP 09 leader, even said that Mr Nečas was in thrall to “national socialist” elements within his party over the issue. The opposition-led Senate has also called for the country to join.

The economically liberal ODS has long had a troubled relationship with the EU, joining Britain’s Conservatives and Poland’s Law and Justice party in creating a rightwing grouping in the European parliament.

Unlike in neighbouring Poland, where the EU is seen as a guarantor of Polish safety from any Russian revival and a vehicle to build Polish influence in the Union, the Czech Republic does not share Polish worries over Russia and, with 10m people, is too small to dream of wielding significant influence in Brussels.

Although neighbouring Slovakia joined the euro in 2009, there is little official enthusiasm for the common currency, and surveys find that less than a quarter of Czechs want to abandon the koruna for the euro. The government has not set an accession date.

“In Czech history you can find a lot of caution towards anything that comes from outside Czech borders. This is historically a deeply provincial nation,” said Jiri Pehe, a political scientist and one of the petition’s signatories. “There is very little discussion here about what it means to be in Europe. There seems to be an accountant mentality – counting how much we will have to pay versus how much we get from the EU.”

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