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Sarkozy comments threaten Czech EU ratification: PM

Czech ratification of the EU's Lisbon treaty has been jeopardised by comments made by French President Nicolas Sarkozy, Czech Prime Minister Mirek Topolanek was quoted on Monday as saying.

world Updated: Feb 10, 2009 08:59 IST

Czech ratification of the EU's Lisbon treaty has been jeopardised by comments made by French President Nicolas Sarkozy, Czech Prime Minister Mirek Topolanek was quoted on Monday as saying.

Sarkozy angered the Czechs -- who hold the rotating European Union presidency -- last week by suggesting in an interview that French car companies should move production back home from countries like the Czech Republic.

"What Nicolas Sarkozy said is unbelievable," Topolanek said in an interview with the daily Hospodarske Noviny. "If somebody wanted to seriously threaten ratification of the Lisbon Treaty, they couldn't have picked a better means or time."

The Czech Republic is the only EU nation that has not held a vote on the Lisbon Treaty, which is meant to streamline the bloc's decision-making after it grew to 27 members from 15 in the past five years.

Topolanek later told a news conference that comments like Sarkozy's gave ammunition to opponents of the treaty who say it would harm smaller countries -- a big issue for some in Topolanek's ruling party that has held up ratification.

"The main argument of those who do not agree with the Lisbon Treaty today ... is that the big countries will create ground, by a shift in authorities to the European level, for a greater influence over the areas concerned," he said.

"If one of the big countries like France makes a comment like Nicolas Sarkozy, then it proves these people right. If this is what the future of the EU should be, then I have to say it is not good news for all the smaller countries."

The Czechs have had a bumpy relationship with France, which held the EU presidency in the second half of 2008.

Sarkozy, a fast-moving crisis manager during France's term, has continued to develop diplomatic initiatives during the Czech presidency, irking Czech diplomats.

When an interviewer suggested last week that the Czech Republic was not a visible or strong EU president, he merely said: "They are doing what they can."

Topolanek backs treaty

Topolanek has said he does not like the treaty but grudgingly backs it as a price worth paying for EU membership.

He reiterated in the interview that he would vote for the document, but he faces opposition from backbenchers in his own party, some of whom have said they will quit if Lisbon is approved. That would further weaken Topolanek's administration, which already lacks a parliamentary majority.

Topolanek's Civic Democrats have also linked approval of the document to ratification of a separate plan to build a U.S. missile defence radar southwest of Prague.

The leftist opposition has criticised the radar plan, and given the equal balance of power between the government and opposition in parliament, both plans may be kept waiting in at least one chamber of parliament for weeks or even months.

The lower house is due to discuss the treaty next week but is not certain to hold a vote.

The treaty, which must be ratified by all 27 EU countries to take effect, would give the bloc a long-term president, a more powerful foreign representative, and change voting procedures to remove the need for unanimity in some cases.

It has been ratified so far by 24 countries. Ireland rejected the treaty in a referendum but plans to hold a new vote later this year. The Polish parliament has approved the treaty but the president has yet to sign it. In Germany, the treaty has been approved but faces a challenge in the constitutional court.