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Check the Czechs

Hello Prague, I´m the President of the EU

During the last EU summit, all the Czech media – Respekt including – frenzied about Vaclav Klaus´demand for the opt-out from the Charter of fundamental rights. Quite understandable though since a) it was the Czech president who asked for it and b) the Brussels gathering was the venue to grant him the latter, or not.

Yet the general attention was elsewhere. With Mr Klaus having aired he would not ask for more concessions and the Swedish diplomats – the deal brokers – suggesting the Lisbon treaty was moreless in the bag, the EU decision-makers turned to a different topic. And that was the president of the European Council. In other words – the first EU head. Forget Vaclav Klaus,il capo di tutti capi was the story of the summit.

Again quite understandable since it is mainly this post that Lisbon will bring about and since the time is running fast. The EU president should be elected in few weeks. Therefore despite the fact that the search for the European head was not on the agenda, the talks in the corridors were about nothing but names, geography, left-right balance and so forth.

Quick reminder: the future president of the European club must be either a current or a former head of state or government and he/she will be assigned to the job for two and half years with one possible renewal. His/her role will be to represent the EU in the outside world and to give to the club broad political directions.

Last but not least, he/she will be chosen by members of the European Council which means by current presidents and prime ministers of the member countries. That is actually the most important feature to realize when thinking of who might get the job. Since the EU supremo will preside over leaders´meetings they want to prevent having the „enemy within“ at a table in Brussels. Not surprising then that last week´s discussion was not about who should get the job but who should NOT. And not surprising again that the firmest coalition proved to be the anti-Blair one.

Tony Blair, former UK prime minister and nowadays a special UN envoyé to the Middle East, has been leading the polls everytime the European public was asked the question who would you like to see as the EU head. Charismatic, excellent speaker, heavy weight, well known. The public, still according to the polls, felt Mr Blair might fit well Henry Kissinger´s famous wish of having „one telephone number“ to Europe.

Yet Tony Blair´s strong character is precisely the reason why national leaders – apart from Mr Blair´s successor Gordon Brown – don´t want him as their primus inter pares. They don´t want anybody who might boss around and not obey the rules.

So when the Spanish prime minister José Louis Zapatero said, after a meeting with the other socialist leaders of Europe, that their agreement was the job of the EU High Representative of foreign affairs – another post Lisbon provides for – should go to a socialist, it was seen primarily as a blow to Mr Blair´s candidature. Why? Because Tony Blair, a former chairman of UK Labour party, is a socialist by definition and you can´t give both top chairs to socialist camp. If the left is asking for second most important post, the first one should go to the right.

Of course there is a hidden agenda, too. Few Spanish diplomats tried to hide that should the EU president take up his job only after June of next year, Mr Zapatero could easily endorse Tony Blair – Spain has a presidency in the first half of 2010 and the Spanish leader doesn´t want anybody to overshadow him in his role of the EU head.

More importantly, though, is the view of Angela Merkel, a chancellor of the biggest EU state and biggest contributor to a common budget. Germany didn´t put forward its own candidate to any of the top jobs and Mrs Merkel let the boys to play until now. She didn´t mention any name at the summit but left no one in doubt what was her preference. The EU leader, she said, should be somebody coming from a smaller state since the smaller states are the majority in the EU. France, she conveyed off-the-record to a handful of journalists in Brussels, shared this view, too.

That is indeed a kiss of death to Mr Blair and a big boost to people like Jan Peter Balkenende of Netherlands or the Belgian prime minister Herman van Rompuy. They are not the most known, not the most inspiring but come from smaller states, the right-wing political family and above all – no one minds them.

And now, who do you think the Czech Republic supports? The answer is – jump! – no one. The Czech government doesn´t have any preference, any opinion. And it hasn´t made up its mind when it comes to the role of the EU president either as the Czech diplomats confessed in the margins of Brussels meeting.

It would have been just fine if the country didn´t cry all the time it´s being sidelined in the EU and its sovereignity being ripped off her. But it does it. The Czech-made strategy is to observe the European match from a nearby bush and then cry out loud „I wanna play, too!“ when the referee blows the final whistle.

Meanwhile, look at Poland. The Polish government knows it can´t push for its candidate for the top job, not least because the leader of the European Parlament is a Pole. But it has at least an opinion on what type of person should get it. According to Warsaw the EU supremo should be a compromise-minded coordinator rather than a strong boss (= not Tony Blair), as patiently explained to the press by Polish officials at the summit.

Right. So now a question: Why the Czechs are incapable of at least the same?

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