A battle of wills has broken out between the Czech Prime Minister Jiri Paroubek and President Vaclav Klaus. Mr. Klaus is a strong critic of the EU Constitution and his provocative remarks with regard to the treaty have raised the strongly pro-European Prime Minister's hackles. Mr Paroubek said on Thursday that Mr. Klaus had overstepped his mandate when he criticized the EU Constitution during foreign visits, and made it clear that this would not be tolerated in future.
The Prime Minister did not mince his words when he demanded that the President respect the foreign policy line set by the Czech government. He said literally that Mr. Klaus would have to learn to respect the set boundaries or he would find himself going on fewer foreign trips. The veiled threat is unprecedented and the Prime Minister is actually in a position to see it through. It is the cabinet which approves the foreign trips of both the prime minister and president and when an invitation to a high-level foreign event arrives it is up to the cabinet to decide who should go. "It may prove necessary to brief the president on the country's foreign policy on the eve of a foreign trip in the future" Mr. Paroubek told journalists.
The President's Office was mortally offended by the tone and suggested that the Prime Minister take the time to study the Czech Constitution. According to the president's office, the Constitution stipulates that the Cabinet and President should mould the country's foreign policy together. Legal experts call it "joint executive powers", although interpretations differ - some legal experts claim it is the government which should have the final word, others say it is a question of reaching consensus. The possibility of a dual interpretation has given rise to similar conflicts in the past. In the years when Vaclav Havel was president it was Mr Klaus who was prime minister, and he often claimed that the president was presenting his own views abroad, rather than those of the Klaus Cabinet.
As regards the country's future in the EU such cooperation between the current government and president is hard to image. While the Paroubek Cabinet supports the treaty, President Klaus is strongly opposed to it and has actually published a booklet in which he enumerates all the possible pitfalls and urges Czechs to vote against it. He strongly defends his right to express his views on this matter:
"It is necessary for all of us in Europe to accept a free and open discussion about the European Constitution as something legitimate, normal and necessary. This has not been the case until now. I am afraid that any criticism of the text of the Constitution is a priori considered as something negative, as something problematic, as something simply wrong."
The Prime Minister says that at home Mr. Klaus is free to say what he likes and that he will refrain from commenting on his views on the EU Constitution in order not to give them more attention than they deserve. Mr. Paroubek said the government would soon offer the public a balanced information campaign and that he trusted the people's judgement. "Czechs are practical, moderate and realistic - I trust they will make the right decision" the Prime Minister said.
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