Prague Castle is the third largest in the world. Picture by Tepold.
Czech President Vaclav Klaus has always been a Eurosceptic. He i, in fact, the sole Eurosceptic among European heads of state, following the plane crash that tragically killed Polish President Lech Kaczinsky in April last year. He has constantly attracted the ire of enraged Brussels officials: hundreds of MEPs walked out of the European Parliament chamber rather than hear him speak - ironically on the subject of listening to other people's views. Daniel Cohn-Bendit once stormed into Hradcany Castle, replaced the Czech flag on the President's desk with an EU one, and briskly informed the President: 'no-one cares about your opinions.' The co-president of the European Greens was perhaps infuriated that the Czech head of state is also a climate sceptic, whose book, Blue Planet in Green Shackles, is sold internationally. Mr. Klaus even had the gall to take the fight directly to the Guardian.
That might by why his party, Občanská Demokratická Strana (Civic Democratic Party; ODS) is now firmly committed to holding a second referendum in light of French and German proposals fundamentally altering the nature of the eurozone. According to federalists, the Czechs have had their referendum before: they voted to join the European Union, back in 2003, knowing full well that joining the euro was a legal requirement of all new member states. But the federalists themselves are no strangers to holding referendums again when they don't get the answer they want, and, as Czech Prime Minister Petr Nečas explains, the eurozone has changed beyond recognition since then.
Citing a proposed German-led treaty change in a speech at a party congress, Mr. Nečas said 'the conditions under which the Czech citizens decided in a referendum in 2003 on the country's accession to the EU and on its commitment to adopt the single currency, euro, have changed.' The stable, prospering currency they opted into in 2003 is now wracked by the prospect of a Greek default and more bailouts of Italy and Cyprus. Estonia, its newest member, has seen support for its membership of the single currency collapse due to massive inflation. The economic advisory council - a body which includes a number of eminent economists - has already warned the government to prepare for the euro's disintegration. If 'there is a change to fundamental rights that would result in powers being transferred from national organs to European organs,' a referendum will be held.
The EU-funded Centre for European Policy Studies has already criticised talk of a public ballot as 'purely populist,' and accused the government of doing it solely to shore up their domestic poll ratings - an accusation also levelled by the opposition Social Democrats. It does, however, admit that the 'disease...of introvertism and isolationism' stands a good chance of winning if a referendum goes ahead. There is an overwhelming 73% majority against joining the eurozone, as of April, and Vaclav Klaus's economic opinions are taken seriously. The liberal-conservative economist was one of the principle figures in the the Czechoslovak economic reforms after the collapse of the Soviet Union, and opposes the bailout of large financial institutions with public funds as a matter of capitalist principle. Four-fifths of Czechs take a similar view.
The koruna looks set to be around for a while yet, and the Czechs can retain their title as the most democratic nation in Europe.
This is the third update posted today: the other two are on the changes to the law of succession, and the European Commission taking every country in Europe to court.