A vote of no confidence has left in doubt the future of Czech Prime Minister Mirek Topolanek’s center-right government and, along with it, the direction of the EU and several key regional issues.
Jan Korselt for Reuters:
The Czech government was left shorn of authority on Wednesday after a no-confidence vote, its currency weakened and doubts rising over its ability to cope with economic storms and the demands of the EU Presidency. […] The vote could leave Topolanek in the prime minister’s office for several months yet, but with less power to tackle problems of growth and financing that have also hit regional heavyweight Poland and driven three other once-booming economies to seek rescue from the International Monetary Fund.
Governments fall from time to time in parliamentary systems, so this would ordinarily not be big news outside the Czech Republic. Except that, as Fergal O’Brien and Dara Doyle note for Bloomberg, the country happens to hold the rotating EU presidency for another three months. This, naturally, makes not a few people nervous.
[This development] makes Ireland’s talks on a new EU treaty “more complex” before a second vote on the document this year, Irish Foreign Minister Micheal Martin said. The Czech crisis complicates the Irish government’s plans to win approval of the Lisbon Treaty after a veto in a referendum last year, threatening to renew EU wrangles over policymaking just as President Barack Obama presses Europe for bolder action to confront the deepening recession. “Now we have to see how things evolve with the Czech presidency and who we will be negotiating with,” Martin said in an interview in Dublin today. “That’s a bit more complex than we would have anticipated.”
European Commission President Jose Barroso voiced concern that the treaty may become “hostage of the domestic problems. This would not be fair to the other countries of Europe.”
As separate AP and Deutsche Welle reports make clear, Topolanek and other Czech leaders are taking great pains to allay these fears, proclaiming “this is not a tragedy” and promising “business as usual.”
Kathleen Moore of RFE/RL observes that, while Topolanek’s coalition was never that strong to begin with, its fall is a sign of wider troubles for the region.
The collapse came days after Hungary’s Prime Minister Ferenc Gyurcsany resigned to allow a new government to try and lead the country out of its severe slump.
Last month, Latvia’s government collapsed after violent protests amid an economic contraction that is the worst in the European Union.
“If you look at Central and Eastern Europe, the crisis is putting pressure on governments across the region,” Lars Christensen, an emerging markets analyst with Danske Bank in Copenhagen, says. “We saw the resignation of the Hungarian prime minister over the weekend, clearly related to the crisis. But for the Czech Republic, it’s a minor issue in terms of the collapse of the government; Mr. Topolanek always had a fragile coalition, and I don’t think it’s a surprise to anybody [that] it didn’t come through the entire election period alive. It has more to do with the fragile foundation for this coalition rather than the crisis.”
The Czech Republic is seen to be in better shape economically than others in the region, with relatively low levels of foreign debt. But exports have been hit hard by the downturn in Western Europe and officials now say the economy could contract some 2 percent this year.
And, as a Reuters report notes, this latest domino’s falling “upped political nerves in the EU’s eastern members on Wednesday, putting regional currencies on a weaker footing.”
James Joyner is managing editor of the Atlantic Council.