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Czech leader scorns EU politics

Czech President Vaclav Klaus at European Parliament in Brussels, 19 Feb 09
Mr Klaus said Czechs were wary of any reminders of communist methods

Czech President Vaclav Klaus has accused the European Parliament of contributing to a sense of political alienation among EU citizens.

Mr Klaus told MEPs in Brussels that "between citizens and EU representatives there is a great distance - not only geographically".

The Czech Republic currently holds the EU's six-monthly rotating presidency.

Some MEPs walked out of the chamber during Mr Klaus's speech, which was punctuated by both applause and boos.

The Czech leader criticised those EU politicians who "assume that there is only one possible correct future for European integration, which is ever closer union".

"Here, there is only one alternative and those who dare think about a different option are labelled enemies of European integration," he said.

The Lisbon Treaty would make the problem even worse
Czech President Vaclav Klaus

Mr Klaus also reiterated his opposition to the EU's Lisbon Treaty, which is aimed at reshaping EU institutions to make them better suited to the enlarged 27-nation bloc. Critics say it threatens national sovereignty.

'No European nation'

He spoke of the "bureaucratisation of the decision-making process" in the EU, likening the trend to the totalitarian communism that stifled Czech democracy for more than four decades.

"The Lisbon Treaty would make the problem even worse... since there is no European 'demos' [populace], no European nation," he added.

"This defect cannot be solved by strengthening the role of the European Parliament. It would on the contrary make the problem worse and lead to greater alienation of European citizens."

But he insisted that "EU membership does not have any alternatives".

The Lisbon Treaty would boost MEPs' legislative powers in a number of areas. A handful of countries have not yet ratified it - including the Czech Republic. All must ratify it for it to take effect.

Mr Klaus has steadfastly refused to fly the EU flag over Prague Castle, and in December he had a row with some visiting MEPs, who criticised his sceptical stance on the EU.

"Let's not underestimate the fears of citizens of many member countries - they feel their ability to influence decisions is very limited," Mr Klaus told the parliament on Thursday.

"Let's not allow a situation where citizens live with a feeling of resignation that the European project is not their own."

Mr Klaus said the priority for Europe must be prosperity, and he blamed the current economic crisis on political meddling in the free market.

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