The European Parliament on Wednesday overwhelmingly endorsed the European Union's first Constitution, which aims to streamline the way the EU works. Nearly all the mainstream parties in the 732 member Parliament supported the treaty, with 500 deputies in favour, 137 against and 40 abstaining from the vote. The European Constitution will only come into force if all 25 member states ratify it, and one of the countries where the ratification process is seen as potentially problematic is the Czech Republic. Although the coalition government is strongly in favour, the leading opposition party the Civic Democrats, along with the communists who between them hold two thirds of the country's seats in the European Parliament raised their hands against it. We called Jan Zahradil, of the Civic Democrats, to ask why he voted against the European Constitution:
"We do not think that it brings good solutions for the future of Europe. We think that it goes too far in the integration process, it strengthens the supra national character of the European Union and weakens the position of certain member states, in particular that of the Czech Republic."
Civic Democratic Party deputies here in the Czech Republic have been telling the public that it would restrict the country's sovereignty - can you tell me in what way, specifically?
"If the European Constitution is approved our voting ratio in the European Council will decrease from 3,7 percent -which is the current state - down to 2,2 percent which is a reduction of more than one third. This means that we would lose, substantially, the possibility to influence some things in the European Council. Furthermore, if in future, some new jurisdictions are shifted from the national level to the European level, meaning that these matters would be decided within the European Council, then the Czech Republic's reduced ability to influence them - clearly amounts to a loss of some degree of state sovereignty."
"That is true, but to be pro-European does not automatically mean being pro-Constitution. Pro-European in my opinion, means to be in favour of membership in the EU - which we were and still are - to be in favour of removal of trade barriers, movement of people, of labour, of goods and everything but it does not mean automatically that we should be in favour of building some European supra-state. So, yes, we do believe that we will be able to explain to the people that to be anti-Constitution does not mean being anti-European. These are two different things, different matters, different issues."
So are you very disappointed by yesterday's vote?
"No, not at all, because if you look at it - 25 percent of European Parliament deputies did not vote in favour of the Constitution, which in my opinion is a bigger share than expected. Definitely, it is not possible to marginalize this share - if one quarter of all, every fourth MEP did not vote in favour of the Constitution. It is no longer possible to describe these people as extremist or people who are on the edge of European political or public life."
The Czech governing parties, the Social Democrats, Christian Democrats and Freedom Union are in favour of the EU Constitution, but their voices are not being heard at this point, because they did very badly in the European elections.
Meanwhile, public opinion surveys suggest that if a referendum on the constitution were held today over 60 percent of Czechs would support it. Also, much will depend on the information campaign that precedes it - since like many other Europeans, Czechs actually know very little of what the EU Constitution would mean in practice - and are still waiting for more information before definitively making up their minds.
Beijing ends agreement with Prague – but can spat harm Czech capital?
Czechia now ahead of Spain in GDP per capita, but still below EU average
Czechs observe day of mourning for pop idol Karel Gott
Thousands pay tribute to deceased national pop icon Karel Gott
In memoriam: Karel Gott, the ‘Bohemian nightingale’