Czech president flags nation’s return to EU mainstream
EU banner flying over Prague Castle for first time, after pro-EU Zeman replaced eurosceptic Klaus
Czech president Milos Zeman (left) and European Commission president José Manuel Barroso hoist the European Union Flag at Prague Castle yesterday. The occasion marks the first time the flag has been raised over the castle since the Czech Republic joined the EU nine years ago. Photograph: Petr Josek/Reuters
Nine years after the Czech Republic joined the European Union, the bloc’s blue-and- gold flag is finally flying over Prague Castle, as its new occupant signals a major shift from the euro-scepticism of his predecessor.
During a decade as Czech president which ended last month, Václav Klaus was a fierce critic of deeper EU integration, complaining that it was disempowering smaller nations and passing too much clout from sovereign states to a vast, wasteful and unelected Brussels bureaucracy.
He steadfastly refused to allow the EU banner to be raised over Prague Castle.
After reaching his two-term limit, the centre-right Mr Klaus was replaced in the first direct elections for Czech president by Milos Zeman, a left-winger who is just as outspoken as his predecessor but who holds views on the EU that could hardly be more different.
Mr Zeman welcomed European Commission chief José Manuel Barroso to Prague Castle yesterday to see the EU banner hoisted and to watch him sign an addendum to European treaties that allows euro zone states to create the European Stability Mechanism (ESM) bailout fund.
Like the raising of the flag, the signing was a symbolic gesture – the ESM is already operational and the Czech Republic does not use the euro; but Mr Klaus refused to sign the addendum and called the bailout mechanism “monstrous, meaningless and absurd”.