Czechs keep their options open in Brussels

After much controversy at home on whether the Czech Republic should join the euro-zone’s emerging fiscal compact, the Czech government delegation headed for Monday’s key EU summit in Brussels determined to keep its options open. In the midst of continuing discord on the subject, there is just one thing Czech politicians heartily agree on – they want to have a finger in the pie.

Petr Nečas, photo: CTKPetr Nečas, photo: CTK Anyone expecting the Czech Republic to make a firm commitment regarding the EU fiscal compact at Monday’s summit is sure to be disappointed. The Czech government last week gave what it called “conditional approval” to the country joining the EU fiscal pact, if such a decision is approved by Parliament or sanctioned by a popular vote.

Consequently, the Czech government delegation headed for the talks in Brussels with an open mind and a reassuring “maybe”. Prime Minister Petr Necas said Prague could not seriously be expected to make a commitment on something which was still in the making.

“There are still five areas – five articles of this treaty which have not been finalized and which remain unclear.”

What Prague is ready to offer at this point is involvement in negotiating the final terms of the fiscal union and it has a few suggestions of its own –in some ways more stringent than those proposed by euro zone members. The Czech government’s secretary for EU affairs Vojtěch Belling:

Vojtěch Belling, photo: archive of the Czech GovernmentVojtěch Belling, photo: archive of the Czech Government “We would like the strict fiscal discipline rules to apply not just to countries which have problems with a deficit in public spending, but also to those which are burdened by a big foreign debt.”

The Czech prime minister claims it is not fear of being unable to meet the new fiscal rules that is holding the country back from a firm commitment – but the question of ceding significant powers to Brussels which he says is not within the government’s mandate to approve.

However once the document is finalized –and constitutional lawyers have their say on the matter – the issue is likely to remain a thorny one. The Czech political scene is divided on whether the decision should be made by Parliament or settled in a national referendum. And the country’s eurosceptic president Vaclav Klaus has already made it clear that he will not under any circumstances ratify such a treaty. With the president’s mandate due to expire in March of 2013, the country is not likely to join the EUs fiscal compact any time soon –at least not in the proper sense of the word.

But aware of the fact that the stability of the euro –and the success of this rescue effort - is crucial to the Czech Republic’s export-dependent economy the Czech prime minister may opt to sign the fiscal compact upon completion and will almost certainly make a strong bid for his country to secure an invitation to future euro zone summits.

It would be an indication that the Czechs want to stay in the European fold and are willing to pull their weight but, like the approval of a 1.5 billion euro loan to the IMF to help stabilize the European debt crisis - exactly half of the amount requested – it would be only a tentative commitment, stopping half-way short of target.

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