President Zeman hoists EU flag at Prague Castle

Czech President Miloš Zeman has made a gesture to distinguish himself from his predecessor in the eyes of Europe. While the eurosceptic Václav Klaus refused to fly the EU flag, on Wednesday Mr. Zeman raised the symbol over Prague Castle in the company of the head of the European Commission. The recently installed head of state also ratified the eurozone’s rescue fund.

Photo: CTKPhoto: CTK For the first time since the Czech Republic joined the European Union in 2004, the bloc’s blue and yellow flag was hoisted at Prague Castle, the seat of the country’s president.

EU flags are displayed on all buildings of the Czech Parliament, government, and other institutions. However, the former president Václav Klaus, a vocal critic of the union, refused to let the EU pennant fly at the castle.

But his successor, President Miloš Zeman, showed his pro-European credentials on Wednesday by hoisting the EU flag during a ceremony attended by the president of the European Commission, José Manuel Barroso. Several hundred anti-EU protestors also turned out.

A few minutes later, President Miloš Zeman added his signature to an amendment to the EU’s Lisbon treaty, formally ratifying the creation of the eurozone’s rescue fund known as the ESM, which his predecessor Václav Klaus had called a monstrous and terrible thing. But President Zeman told reporters that with regard to the European Union, things have changed.

José Manuel Barroso, Miloš Zeman, photo: CTKJosé Manuel Barroso, Miloš Zeman, photo: CTK “What has just happened took place with some delay but fortunately, it did happen. It’s a symbol of our allegiance to the mainstream of European integration. Mr Barroso and I have similar views and I think we both belong to what you might call the EU’s mainstream, or hard core.”

European Commission chief José Manuel Barroso, who arrived in Prague on Tuesday night for a 24-hour visit, welcomed the gesture.

“I think the ceremony today was an important and powerful symbol - first of all, because this was the initiative of the first ever directly-elected Czech president.

“And I think it’s extremely important today to understand the need to defend our national interests together with the European interest. There is in fact no basic contradiction between the national interest and the European interest.”

Mr Barroso also said the ratification of the EU treaty was an important display of solidarity in the difficult times the union is going through.

“The on-going reform of EU economy and the situation in the Czech Republic were two issues I discussed with President Zeman yesterday and today. These issues are linked: the Czech signature on the amendment which clarifies the legal base of the ESM treaty, is an example of cooperation and solidarity we do need in Europe.

Karel Schwarzenberg, photo: Tomáš AdamecKarel Schwarzenberg, photo: Tomáš Adamec Miloš Zeman, who describes himself as a euro-federalist, has made it clear that he will not obstruct further European integration, at least not in the way Václav Klaus did.

But the Czech president’s role in the country’s EU policy is yet to be established. Technically, it’s the Foreign Ministry that’s in charge of policy matters. But Foreign Minister Karel Schwarzenberg, Mr Zeman’s rival for the presidency, was ostentatiously not invited to Wednesday’s ceremony.