During the European Commission's visit to Prague, on 7 January (see Europolitics 3667), Jose Manuel Barroso held discussions with the Czech head of state, the Eurosceptic and temperamental Vaclav Klaus. Before the press, the two men displayed an optimistic attitude, but the divergences remain strong.

The new Czech Presidency of the Union, which is trying to give the right impression and effectively respond to the array of crises that it may face, may find the president' character embarrassing at points. Klaus has never hidden his Euroscepticism, nor his desire not to be dictated to by anyone, even less by Brussels-based technocrats. But recently he has toned down his views. In his New Year's speech to the nation, he acknowledged that the six-month exercise at the head of the EU would be "important". During a press conference with Commission President Barroso, on 7 January in Prague Castle, his place of residence, Klaus also assured that the Czech Presidency was ready and that he hoped it would steer a "normal course".


A little later, a diplomatic source noted to some journalists that the EU flag was clearly present behind the two men - recalling that Klaus had refused to plant the blue flag with a circle of twelve yellow stars at the top of his castle. "The more he is forced to do something, the less he does it. He does not want to be forced to fly a flag and it is not because one does not put flags everywhere that one is not European," continued the source.

Nevertheless, Klaus's discussion with Barroso revealed profound differences of opinion. The Lisbon Treaty is undoubtedly the most sensitive subject. Klaus remains strongly opposed to the text. At this stage, he does not yet clearly say that he will sign the ratification law if it is approved by the two chambers of the Czech parliament. Because, in order for the treaty to come into force, this law must, in the end, be signed by the head of state. In the Czech Republic, the president only has a formal role but the constitution grants him certain extraordinary powers, such as the fact of being the only person authorised to sign international agreements.

Today it seems that Klaus will...

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