Leaders from the 25 European Union member countries have gathered in Brussels with the hope of resolving two outstanding questions: what to do with the battered EU Constitution and how to resolve the deadlock over the budget for 2007-2013. Not many are optimistic: for good reason the meeting has already been dubbed the "Crisis Summit" and many fear that - at least for the moment - differences within the EU are insurmountable.
Sticking points are many, above all whether countries will be able to agree on an overall budget figure: wealthier states - main contributors like Germany, the UK, and France, want the EU to spend approximately 200 billion euros less over the seven year period. But no country, including the Czech Republic, wants to see reductions to funding it receives from Brussels. Somewhere something will have to give. Earlier I spoke to political analyst Ivo Slosarcik and asked whether he thinks it likely the Czech Republic will be able to defend its interests - and specifically - what those interests are.
"I think the Czech priorities are rather clear and not particularly complicated. They are, firstly, a relatively high threshold on EU spending, then relatively high EU spending on regional policy and on research and educational policy. Thirdly, this is maybe the most complicated point, the Czech position on agricultural spending. Now, at a time when Czech farmers receive only about 30 percent of subsidies received by old member countries, it is not a top Czech priority. But, in 2013 according to the original plan, the Czech Republic will receive 100 percent. So, it's important to think long-term, and I think the Czech Republic will fight for it."
If an agreement on the budget is settled, there still remains the daunting problem of the constitution treaty. Following the French and Dutch rejections it is hanging by a thread. Pro-treaty politicians think that a step back may help, that a pause in the ratification process will allow opposition to peter out. Were it to continue steadily - the head of the European Commission Jose Manuel Barroso has compared it to a spreading "infection" - there is a danger that public opinion in untested EU states would swerve further towards a "No".
So where does the Czech Republic stand? Ivo Slosarcik again:
The Czech Republic is unique as the only country with a pro-treaty government and a euro sceptic head of state. President Vaclav Klaus - long opposed to the constitution will not be present in Brussels, but, like the rest of us will be watching whether EU heads reach agreement. Mr Klaus has said in the past the EU can do without a constitution, but it's clear it can not operate without a budget. Common sense dictates some kind of consensus - sooner or later - will have to be reached.
"The European Union survived a lot of crises and to be honest I don't think this summit will be a panacea of all of the problems of the EU today, but I think some decision will be taken. The major decisions will probably be taken within a few months or by the end of the year."
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