Soukie's Place

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Gaza, Gas, EU and “…Not My President”

What do the conflict in Gaza, an ‘anti-EU’ campaigner Declan Ganley and Russia’s cutoff of gas have in common? The answer is surprisingly the Czech Republic. This is not a conspiracy theory; the explanation lies in the beginning of the Czech Republic’s six-month presidency over the European Union. These are all grave issues (pun on my home country intended; and you’ll soon see why) so I decided to address them with a somewhat light-hearted tone.

The reactions are mixed: Nicolas Sarkozy, who’s been at the helm of European Union as the French president until December 31, seems unable to get over the fact that he should step aside; especially to the (also) tiny Czech Republic. Apparently, some people feel a never-ending need to compensate shortcomings. Václav Klaus, the new Czech president, is unfortunately one of them. His trademark is holding fast to, and loud declamation of views that are slightly contraversial and different from the majority, thus demonstrating his superior insights.

Polls show most Czechs see EU as beneficial, so Klaus is unsurprisingly an outspoken ‘Euroskeptic’. He has recently quit his membership in the political party he himself founded because its current leader is pro-EU. He likes to make gestures to remind others of his views, such as refusing to fly the EU flag over the Prague castle, or (on a different topic) writing a book titled ostensibly Blue, not Green Planet.

No wonder many European countries are worried about the Czech presidency of EU. The thing to keep in mind though is that the role of the Czech president is largely ‘ceremonial’, so to speak. But there are other, real concerns about the presidency. The Czech Republic is not in a very good shape to lead EU: The government coalition is in disarray, we (Czechs) have not adopted the Euro currency, and we are the only country that has not passed the ratification of the Treaty of Lisbon through parliament (a kind of patch to be applied after the Constitution of Europe ran aground in 2005 with the failed French referendum; yes, ironic).

Speaking about failed referendums, I cannot leave out Mr Declan Ganley, the man whose campainging made sure the Treaty of Lisbon was rejected in Ireland in 2008. Václav Klaus caused a minor diplomatic incident when he attended a dinner with this gentleman during his official visit to Ireland. I had the “pleasure” of watching Ganley’s forceful mixture of populism and demagogy on the Czech TV where he tried to swell Czechs to support his anti-EU party. (He would never appear there if it wasn’t for Mr Klaus making his name known locally.) Ganley has strong financial ties with the American military and homeland security, so it is easy to do the math for his opposition to making EU more ‘united’. Interestingly, Václav Havel, the former Czech president, was on the same program, and he did not honor Ganley even by referring to him and said that he would like to hear some example of the supposedly undemocratic amendments within the treaty.

One last comment about the current Czech president: One of the members who joined the Facebook group “Vaclav Klaus in [sic] not my president!” protested that his taxes—used for financing the president’s international trips—should promote the image of the country, but now in fact they are damaging it.

The EU presidency is a given, and it coincides with the ongoing economic recession, and most recently the conflict in Gaza, and Russia’s Gazprom shutting off natural gas supply to Ukraine (and EU), so there are serious things to take care of.

Russia’s tactical move and demonstration of power by shutting off the gas supplies to Europe is comparatively easy. The Czech Republic called for an immediate renewal of the supplies; and for Gazprom to resolve their claims against Ukraine. Russia was badly hurt with the dropping oil prices. And picking up an international fight is a proven diversion from economical troubles at home. The Czech Republic should show that it will not be intimidated. And I hope this tactic will not work for Putin as well as he hopes. (More details on Putin’s regime.)

Regarding the Israeli’s offensive against Hamas, which soon turned into a ground war, I was not surprised that the approach of US politicians and media was quite uniformly positive. But even Europe saw this operation as a correct response (compare this to the significantly more critical and complex view of US moving against Iraq). European Union with Czech representatives and Sarkozy (I already noted he can’t give up) tried to intervene and negotiate a 48-hour cease-fire to allow for humanitarian aid to get in. This was refused because that is clearly not what Israel planned. Apparently, they are more interested in destroying Hamas than in stopping the rocket attacks. EU, of course, does not have much leverage in Middle East. ‘U.S. of A.’ do have enormous leverage there, but their only diplomatic action so far was to block a UN resolution calling for an immediate truce.

“The nefarious times we live in.” (This is borrowed from the title of Woody Allen’s short story.) For better or worse, the Czech Republic is leading European Union for the next six months. And it is going to be a rough ride not only for the 27 member states. The Czech EU presidency ad campaign had a theme of “sweetening EU”. Let’s see how sweet it’s going to be.

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