A two-day summit of the European Union in Brussels, which concluded on Friday, was the last before the Czech Republic assumes the rotating EU presidency. Leaders of 27 EU member states agreed on a common energy and climate policy, a recovery plan for the European economy and approved a number of Irish-inspired concessions on the Lisbon treaty. All this was good news for the Czechs who will soon be in the spotlight as the next country presiding over the European Union.
The Social Democratic Party is to ask the Czech Constitutional Court to examine two agreements signed by the government with the United States over the positioning of an anti-ballistic-missile radar station on Czech soil. According to the Czech daily Hospodářské Noviny, the request will be made in February next year, and reflects similar attempts by opponents of the Lisbon Treaty to have it declared unconstitutional by the court – a move which did not succeed. The Social Democrats are staunch opponents of the US radar base, and believe that the agreement signed by the government with the US may be illegal. The move will come at a time when the Czech parliament is scheduled to vote on the Lisbon Treaty – some analysts have suggested a behind-the-scenes quid-pro-quo agreement is being discussed between the Social and Civic Democrats in order for both the Lisbon Treaty and the radar base to gain parliamentary approval – neither have been voted on by the parliament yet.
The US might temporarily postpone its missile defense project in central Europe due to the global financial crisis, Czech Foreign Minister Karel Schwarzenberg told journalists in Brussels on Sunday. Mr. Schwarzenberg, who is in Brussels for Monday’s meeting on EU foreign ministers, said the Czech Republic had no problem with this. “We have fulfilled our duty as allies,” the Czech foreign minister said. In an interview for the Austrian press agency APA Mr. Schwarzenberg sharply rebuked Russia for meddling in the affairs of countries that used to be part of the Warsaw Pact, saying this was something Prague was not prepared to accept.
NATO foreign ministers on Wednesday affirmed their support for US plans to install anti-missile defenses in central Europe saying that the deployment of a tracking radar in the Czech Republic and interceptor missiles in neighbouring Poland would make a "substantial contribution" to protecting Europe from the threat of long-range ballistic missiles. Despite the clear implication that the US missile defense components would be incorporated into European defense structures, the statement has left critics in the Czech Republic unconvinced.
Mayors of the towns and villages in the Brdy Hills, an area southwest of Prague which has been selected as the site of a US radar base on Czech soil, are planning to file a complaint against the Czech government during their visit to the European Parliament next year. The mayors have been invited to visit the EP in February to provide their opinion on the stationing of the radar base in the Brdy military zone. The mayors have already sent a letter to US President-Elect Barack Obama asking him to reconsider the plan. Most of the villages in the Brdy area have rejected the radar base in local referendums and opinion polls indicate that the majority of Czechs do not want the US radar on Czech territory.
Five activists gathered outside the Office of the Government on Monday to
protest against the planned stationing of a US missile defence radar on
Czech soil. The activists vainly attempted to waylay ministers heading for
their cabinet meeting and handed out leaflets against the radar.
The United States wants to install a tracking radar on Czech soil and interceptor missiles in Poland as part of a broader missile defence shield in Europe. Czech and US government representatives signed the relevant treaties earlier this year, but they still have to be approved by the lower house. Anti-radar activists plan to stage more protests in Prague and Brno on Sunday.
The Communist Party has come forward with a claim that additional rebel MPs could help push through an agreement on a planned US radar base in the lower house. The party contended on Friday that such a development would be the result of behind-the-scenes dealings between the ruling Civic Democrats and the opposition Social Democrats. The Communist Party on Friday also reacted with criticism to Thursday’s Senate vote backing the radar deal. 48 out of 81 senators voted in favour. The Czech government and US officials have signed two treaties on the stationing of the US base on Czech soil, part of a broader anti-missile system planned by the US in central and eastern Europe. The vote in the lower house will take place next year.
A new poll conducted by Augur Consulting has suggested that 70 percent of Czechs are in favour of the Czech Republic’s membership in NATO. 53 percent of those polled thought the country’s soldiers should serve only in Europe (as opposed to difficult areas further abroad). Currently the Czech Republic has soldiers, for example, serving in reconstruction and military missions in Afghanistan. The survey, which relied on 980 respondents, also suggests that a higher number of Czechs favour their military being involved in peacekeeping rather than combat missions. The poll was commissioned by the Defence Ministry.
The Czech Senate has approved government-sponsored legislation to locate a US anti-missile radar base in the Czech Republic. 49 out of 81 present senators approved the plans – an outcome, which was largely expected. All Social Democrat and Communist senators voted against the base, but were not joined by any members from other parties. A last-minute Social Democrat attempt to postpone the vote was also unsuccessful. Despite this step, an upcoming and as yet unscheduled vote in the Lower House is likely to be far more contentious, with the opposition parties requiring only one stray MP for the legislation to fail. The government has already signed an agreement with the US government with regards to the base, but cannot go forward without parliamentary approval. Opinion polls have consistently suggested that most Czechs are against the American radar base, which would be part of a global anti-missile defence shield.
The mayors of thirty Czech towns have urged US president-elect Barack Obama to abandon US plans to site part of its missile defense shield in the Czech Republic, warning that it posed a serious danger for Europe. In an open letter to the US president-elect, the mayors say there has been a lack of public debate on the issue in the Czech Republic and that opinion polls indicate that two thirds of Czechs do not want a US radar base on Czech soil. They warn that, if the US plans go ahead, Europe could become the main battlefield in a potential international conflict. Mr. Obama has not made an official commitment to continue with the project, saying that his support was conditional on whether the system really worked.
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