Anti-Lisbon party launches in Czech Republic


The new party's founder has ruled out becoming a subsidiary of Libertas, writes Jamie Smythin Prague

A NEW political party dedicated to campaigning against the Lisbon Treaty in the Czech Republic will be launched today by close associates of Czech president Vaclav Klaus.

But in a blow to the pan-European ambitions of Declan Ganley, its founder Petr Mach has ruled out adopting the Libertas brand to compete in the European elections.

"I tried to explain to him that setting up parties is a different thing than setting up businesses. If he has a business he can set up subsidiaries and he would then be the main shareholder of it. It is different with political parties," said Mr Mach, who held talks with Mr Ganley on whether to join forces and form a Czech Libertas.

The talks broke down because Mr Mach wants to focus his party - which is called the Free Citizens' Party (Strana Svobodnych Obcanu) - on national rather than EU politics and not simply become a subsidiary of Libertas. It will campaign in the European elections, but its main goal is to become a force in Czech politics that can rival the ruling Civic Democrat party (ODS), which has recently distanced itself from Klaus over his Eurosceptic views ahead of the Czech Republic's elevation to the position of president of the EU's council of ministers.

Mr Ganley will now try to set up his own Libertas branch in the Czech Republic without Mr Mach. "Petr Mach is a Eurosceptic and I am not," Mr Ganley said yesterday while expressing confidence in his ability to run candidates in the Czech Republic in June.

"Where we run candidates on the ballot paper; they will be Libertas candidates and they won't be Eurosceptic," said Mr Ganley, who was in Poland at the weekend interviewing potential candidates. He said Libertas officials would visit the Czech Republic this week.

But Mr Mach said Mr Ganley's proposal to set up Libertas branches in every EU state was unlikely to work because there was no single European "demos" or public opinion.

"I think his [Ganley's] concept won't work. You simply cannot know the situation in all member states," Mr Mach said.

"In all countries the public will always consider him a stranger because he speaks a different language. It is impossible to campaign in a foreign language. I think you cannot apply a business concept to politics."

Mr Mach, who is an economist and close associate of Mr Klaus, said he thought Mr Ganley would struggle to attract candidates to set up Libertas in the Czech Republic, as well as votes, because the anti-Lisbon political space was now filled. But he said his party would be willing to co-operate with any Libertas MEPs elected to the European Parliament in other EU states to oppose the Lisbon Treaty following the European elections in June.

"In principle I think we both share the same goal . . . so it would be practical if he would accept our party as part of a loose alliance, but I have not received a reply," he said.

He opposes the treaty because he says it substantially boosts the relative voting power of big member states in the EU compared to smaller states. It also removes member states' veto over more sensitive policy areas and is far too complex, said Mr Mach, who hopes the Irish people will reject the Lisbon Treaty in the likely second referendum this year.

"It seems the very same treaty will be put to a second referendum and all the concessions [negotiated by the Government] will be just virtual . . . it's just a cheat," he said.

The Free Citizens' Party is being set up because Mr Mach believes the ruling ODS party in the Czech Republic have "betrayed their basic principles" by supporting a treaty that they campaigned against in the last election.

"Many members of the ODS feel this is a matter of principle and cannot put up with the change of attitude," said Mr Mach, who plans to name sitting ODS MP Alena Paralova and prominent writer and political commentator Benjamin Kuras as two of high-profile supporters of his new party.

Mr Mach said his party would not have any formal link with Vaclav Klaus but it would mirror his ideas on the Lisbon Treaty and economics. "We are in favour of free markets and a low and simple tax system," says Mr Mach, who admits the Free Citizen's Party will remain close to the ruling ODS on many basic principles except the treaty.

Czech prime minister Mirek Topolánek has recently called on the ODS to support Lisbon and a majority of its deputies are expected to support the treaty in a parliamentary vote for ratification next month.

A recent opinion poll commissioned by Czech public television found that a new party connected to Libertas, and which campaigned against Lisbon, could attract up to 22 per cent of the vote in the upcoming elections.

"There are a lot of people really frustrated that the party they voted for didn't listen to them regarding the EU or Lisbon," says Mr Mach, whose first priority is to claim 5 per cent of the vote - the threshold for winning a seat.

Senior ODS politician and Czech minister for the interior Ivan Langer told The Irish Timesthat he relished the competition from the new party, which he predicted would claim 1 per cent of the vote rather than the 20 per cent-plus suggested in the recent opinion poll.

Yet squabbling in the three-party coalition led by the ODS, which could result in a cabinet reshuffle as early as today, is leading to public alienation from politics, say analysts.