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The European Union's crisis of leadership during this severe economic downturn was thrown into sharp relief on Wednesday, as the prime minister of the country that holds the rotating presidency lambasted President Barack Obama's emergency stimulus package as "a way to hell" that will "undermine the stability of the global financial market."

The blunt comments of the Czech prime minister, Mirek Topolanek, coming just a week before a crucial meeting of the Group of 20 that is supposed to show leaders coming together to cope with the crisis, were greeted with embarrassment by many Europeans, who believe that the Czechs do not represent the consensus in the European Union in any case.

What made the situation even more absurd was that Mr. Topolanek lost his parliamentary majority in the Czech Republic on Tuesday, with his new lame-duck status further weakening Prague's European presidency. Adding to the awkwardness, Mr. Topolanek will host Mr. Obama in Prague a few days after the G-20 meeting, at a United States-European Union summit.

So the old question of who speaks for Europe and when, especially in a crisis, has again become more acute, especially with persistent internal strains between more prosperous West European countries, which use the euro, and newer members in Central and Eastern Europe, which do not.

The country holding the revolving presidency of the union is supposed to represent Europe as a whole, and Mr. Topolanek will go to the G-20 meeting in London as the European president — along with numerous other Europeans, including the head of the European Commission, José Manuel Barroso, and the heads of individual countries like France, Germany, Italy and Spain.

Jiri Paroubek, the leader of the Social Democrats in the Czech Parliament, who called the vote of no confidence on Tuesday against Mr. Topolanek, accused him of an undiplomatic gaffe.

"It is a very strange and curious view of a Czech prime minister whose government was just ousted from office," Mr. Paroubek said in an interview. "In my view, it is also extremely impolite and undiplomatic toward President Obama, who we will host in less than two weeks time."

Europeans themselves are well aware of the leadership problem, having painfully negotiated a constitution, which was rejected by European voters, and then the Lisbon Treaty, which will create a permanent European president and foreign minister, and which was supposed to go into effect Jan 1. But the Lisbon Treaty, which requires the votes of all members, was rejected by Irish voters in June 2008, making the Czech presidency necessary.

Mr. Topolanek's remarks were considered impolitic, with the German leader of the Socialist group in the European Parliament, Martin Schulz, telling him: "You have not understood what the task of the E.U. presidency is," and describing his comments as "not the level on which the E.U. ought to be operating with the United States."

...se more here: http://www.iht.com/articles/2009/03/25/europe/union.php
Nick: JirkaPraha, 26.3.2009 14:38:51
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