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It is a tricky time for the Czech parliament to fire its government, but that's exactly what it did today with a vote of no confidence.
Prime Minister Mirek Topolanek is about halfway through the country’s six-month term as president of the European Union, a position that sparked endless advance speculation on whether Prague was capable of handling it. The new situation will undoubtedly reignite that debate, and some, like the influential parliamentarian I quote below, are already drawing negative conclusions from it.
U.S. President Barack Obama is due in the Czech Republic April 5 for a summit with all 27 EU members and the Topolanek government has a full EU agenda ahead, with even an extra EU Council meeting specifically targeting unemployment scheduled for May.
But the opposition Social Democrats accuse Topolanek’s center-right coalition of mishandling the financial crisis domestically. Although the party said late Tuesday that Topolanek could stay on until the end of the EU presidency, which falls June 30, it will be up to President Vaclav Klaus to decide what happens next.
The European Commission released a rather terse factual statement in reaction to the 101—96 vote: “According to the treaties, the Council Presidency is held by the Member State which is represented by its competent governmental authorities under national constitutional law. The Commission has full trust that the national constitutional law allows for the Czech Republic to continue conducting the Council Presidency as effectively as it has done until now. It is for the Czech Republic's democratic process under the constitution to resolve the domestic political issues; the Commission is confident that this is done in a way which ensures the full functioning of the Council Presidency.”
The head of the largest coalition in the European Parliament, Joseph Daul of the European People’s Party-European Democrats, was much less circumspect, soundly criticizing the Czech opposition that called the vote.
"Europe needs strong leadership in this time of crisis, and a government holding the EU Council's presidency without confidence is not able to provide it," he said. "I strongly regret the decision taken today by the Czech socialist party to adopt the motion of non-confidence in the Government, which undermines not only the stability of the Czech Republic, but also the success of the Czech Presidency of the European Union. Depriving Europe of strong leadership at this time of crisis and jeopardising Europe's stability and reputation on the world stage is just not responsible."
Topolanek is due in Brussels on Wednesday and says he may submit his resignation after that. But he also says he hopes Klaus may ask him to stay on as prime minister and form a new government, since his party was the highest vote-getter in the last elections of 2006. In a statement after the vote, Topolanek assured that "at the moment this situation has no effect on the role of the President of the European Council."