March 2008, published in Grayling's Circum Europa - 2008/Q1/Issue 5
The Czech Parliament finally re-elected the eurosceptic, Václav Klaus, as the country's President on 15th February. EU Commission President, José Manuel Barroso, sent Klaus his "warmest congratulations."
This election came at a crucial time, as the Czech Republic is preparing for its EU Presidency to take place in early 2009.
Internally this election has been broadly seen as a choice between ‘old’ and 'new' visions of the country's future. The two candidates, Mr Klaus and his opponent, Jan Švejnar, differed widely in their attitudes towards the European Union.
Mr Klaus essentially sees the EU as an economic system of co-operation between sovereign nations and frequently opposes giving up other competencies to a "centralised" Brussels. He has been noted for his opposition to the Euro and the former EU Constitution, as well as the Treaty of Lisbon. Moreover, he has already expressed his scepticism on EU policies on climate change.
Although both candidates supported the US plan to install a missile defence shield in the country, Mr Švejnar was generally much more enthusiastic about the EU. He did not believe that national Czech interests and a pro-EU position were in contradiction, contrary to Mr Klaus’s point of view.
It will be fascinating to see how an openly eurosceptic Head of State will manage the Presidency of the EU, particularly as the Lisbon Treaty enters into force. Moreover, with the vote demonstrating that a majority of Czechs remain unconvinced about the EU, it remains to be seen how this new Member State can be an effective and enthusiastic mediator in the first half of 2009.