Nečas urges caution, referendum on euro in wake of Zeman comments

The rather moribund debate over when to join the single European currency has been revived in recent days, with the Czech president Miloš Zeman telling a German newspaper his country could adopt the euro within five years. The eurosceptic government is rather more cautious; prime minister Petr Nečas reiterated after a meeting with the head of the European Council on Thursday that his government had no plans to set a date for adoption.

Petr Nečas, Herman Van Rompuy, photo: CTKPetr Nečas, Herman Van Rompuy, photo: CTK Miloš Zeman has reinvigorated the debate over Czech euro adoption, telling a German newspaper last week that his country could adopt the single European currency within five years. The Czechs are obliged to join the euro under the terms of their 2004 accession treaty; what the treaty doesn’t say is when. The issue, however, has been off the agenda for several years, especially in the wake of the eurozone debt crisis, so Mr Zeman’s comments have been received with interest. On Thursday Petr Nečas received the visiting head of the European Council Herman Van Rompuy, and at the press conference that followed he was asked to respond to the president’s words:

Miloš Zeman, photo: Filip JandourekMiloš Zeman, photo: Filip Jandourek “It’s the conscious policy of my government not to set a firm date for euro adoption, because previous governments set target dates and they were never met. So it’s a question of the Czech Republic’s reputation and credibility. Second, in the current economic climate, a flexible rate of exchange for the Czech crown is an advantage, not a disadvantage, for a small, export-driven economy such as ours. Entering the eurozone must be advantageous for the Czech economy. Only at that point will it be realistic to talk about adopting the euro.”

Mr Nečas added that the situation in the eurozone had changed so dramatically since the Czechs joined the EU that he would be in favour of a referendum on euro adoption – a view he said was shared by President Zeman.

Herman Van Rompuy for his part stressed that the Czechs could only join when they felt the time was right – the ball, he said, was very much in their court:

Photo: European CommissionPhoto: European Commission “The prime minister added in his statement that it is even an obligation to join the euro, so that is nothing new. But you have to meet all the criteria. At this stage the Czech Republic is not meeting all the criteria, so the problem is not a problem today. But even if you meet the criteria, then of course the Czech Republic has to make its own decision in its own constitutional order. So I will not interfere in this internal debate; it’s up to the Czech Republic to make up its mind, but the first condition of course is to meet the criteria. And I repeat: if the criteria are not met, the problem is in some way not a real problem today.”

Certainly euro adoption will not happen anytime soon – the country is currently in recession, and the central bank predicts a further 0.3 percent contraction this year. But the issue is, at least, now back on the political agenda.