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Czech PM raises new Lisbon hurdle

By William Horsley
Writer on European affairs

US missile interceptor test (file pic)
Russia sees the US missile shield as a direct threat

The Czech government is unwilling to ratify the EU's stalled Lisbon Treaty unless MPs back a US plan to site a radar base in the Czech Republic.

Czech Prime Minister Mirek Topolanek linked the two thorny issues during a visit to London on Thursday.

His stance looks like causing a new political headache for the EU - just as the Czech Republic prepares to assume the EU presidency next month.

His government lacks a working majority in parliament.

Czech MPs are expected to debate both treaties in February.

Parliamentary wrangling

There have been Czech demonstrations against the proposed radar base, which is part of what the US calls a missile defence shield to prevent any missile attack from Iran or other so-called "rogue" states.

The Lisbon Treaty, a sweeping new rule-book for the EU, cannot come into force unless it is ratified by all EU states. The Czech Republic, the Republic of Ireland and Poland have not yet done so.

Czech protest against radar base, 15 Mar 08
"No military bases": Czechs are divided over the missile shield

Irish voters rejected the treaty in a referendum in June, but the government has agreed to hold a second referendum next year, having won EU "legal guarantees" that it hopes will ease the concerns of the Irish people.

The treaty, aimed at reshaping EU institutions to fit the enlarged 27-nation bloc, is seen by opponents as a way to impose a federalist agenda, undermining national sovereignty.

Mr Topolanek, leader of the conservative Civic Democratic Party (ODS), has signed the Lisbon Treaty, but a substantial part of his own party opposes it.

His government's foot-dragging over ratification has provoked heated criticism from some other quarters because the Czechs are poised to take over the EU presidency for six months.

"If you want to be part of the Euro-Atlantic community you have to realise that there are costs and benefits. For me the benefit is the radar base on Czech territory. Lisbon for me represents the acceptable cost on the balance sheet," Mr Topolanek said.

"So I propose ratifying all agreements. This is what the vast majority of my party agrees. Lisbon is the victim of the unapproved radar agreement and this situation could be perpetuated."

Diplomats said Mr Topolanek's remark, made to an audience at the London School of Economics, was the first time that the Czech leader had explicitly linked the fate of the "radar treaty" and the Lisbon Treaty.

Mr Topolanek's opponents say he is using blackmail to force through the radar treaty against strong popular opposition.

His words raise the spectre for some EU leaders of more political turbulence over Lisbon at a time when the treaty's opponents are preparing to fan public hostility to it before European Parliament elections scheduled for next June.

Security paramount

Mr Topolanek, like Polish President Lech Kaczynski, sees the presence of US military installations like the proposed missile defence bases as vital to the security of countries in the region.

Those leaders' determination to forge the closest possible defence ties with the US was reinforced after Russia's invasion of Georgian territory in August.

Barack Obama is to become US president next month without having said clearly whether or not his administration will go ahead with the current missile defence plan.

Russia has condemned the missile shield, but the US insists it is not designed to defend the West from Russia.

William Horsley is media freedom representative for the Association of European Journalists.

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