Czech Republic

Jan Fischer, the unassuming non-party technocrat who is holding the fort as Czech prime minister for the next few months, is getting his 15 minutes of fame on the world stage – but it’s certainly not going to his head.  He was sitting in his Prague office today telling me about his preparations for next week’s European Union summit in Brussels – an event he will chair – and somehow his background as a humble statistician kept colouring the conversation.

For example, when I asked him whether most EU heads of government supported a legally binding decision to nominate José Manuel Barroso at the summit for a second term as European Commission president, he replied that it was “50-50 … as regards the sample of people I’ve had a chance to speak to”. Read more

The closer the European Parliament elections, the sneakier the stratagems of British centre-right politicians and activists in Brussels.

As David Cameron made clear on May 18 when he launched the election campaign of his opposition Conservative party, the Tories are poised to leave the mainstream European People’s Party-European Democrats (EPP-ED) group soon after the vote.  They plan to set up a new centre-right group in the EU legislature that would be strongly opposed to more EU political and economic integration. Read more

There is a wonderful scene in “Monty Python’s Life of Brian”, the 1979 movie that satirizes religion, in which two bungling terrorist groups, the People’s Front of Judea and the Campaign for Free Galilee, conduct simultaneous raids on Pontius Pilate’s palace and end up fighting each other rather than the Romans, their common enemy. This is the scene that comes to mind when one looks at the European Union’s recent diplomatic interventions in the Middle East.

The trouble started in January with the embarrassing spectacle of two separate European missions - one led by the Czech Republic in its capacity as holder of the EU’s rotating presidency, and the other led by President Nicolas Sarkozy of France – touring the region in an attempt to calm down the Gaza conflict. One or two countries, notably the Czechs, appeared distinctly more sympathetic to the Israeli notion of justified self-defence against Hamas than did the majority of EU member-states. Read more

The Czech hosts of Thursday’s European Union summit with six ex-Soviet states are not happy bunnies. The list of the EU leaders who couldn’t be bothered to show up for the Eastern Partnership event in Prague, a highlight of the Czechs’ six-month EU presidency, was embarrassingly long.

Let’s take them one by one. Read more

Just two hours after the Czech upper house of parliament passed the European Union’s Lisbon treaty on Wednesday by a comfortable margin, I found myself in the Prague offices of Mirek Topolanek, the outgoing Czech prime minister. Tired but in good humour, he clearly wanted to hammer home the message that his turbulent four months running the Czech Republic’s EU presidency had been more successful than his critics allowed.

Like his country, which is a medium-sized EU member-state, Topolanek is a figure of medium-sized Shakespearean dimensions – a Coriolanus, not a Hamlet. He has done the noble thing by helping to get Lisbon passed. But he will be out of power on Friday, and he doesn’t want or expect praise from the plebeians elsewhere in the EU. Read more

Here I am in Prague – a disappointingly wet Prague, for early May – as tensions mount ahead of a vote in the Czech Senate on the European Union’s Lisbon treaty. Officials in the government of Prime Minister Mirek Topolanek, which collapsed in March but will not finally leave office until Friday, appear confident that the Senate, parliament’s upper house, will approve the treaty – probably by late afternoon today (Wednesday).

But if that’s what happens, it won’t be thanks to any stirring oratory from Topolanek. Speaking to the senators just now, he’s said that he isn’t a passionate enthusiast for the Lisbon treaty, but ”it’s the price for membership of the club”. Read more