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Europe

Czech Leader Tells Merkel: EU Presidency Will be in Safe Hands

Czech Prime Minister Mirek Topolanek said Monday he was dedicated to ratifying the European Union's Lisbon Treaty before his country takes over the bloc's presidency on Jan. 1.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Czech Prime Minister Mirek Topolanek

Merkel sought to quell fears over the impending Czech presidency of the EU

Topolanek's assurances came during a visit to Prague by German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who urged the Czech Republic to pass the stalled reform treaty so the EU could move ahead on efforts to bring it into force.

Czech ratification is not "artificially obstructed" and "could be completed by year's end," Topolanek said of the treaty's passage through the country's legal and parliamentary systems.

The Czech Constitutional Court is currently reviewing the treaty at the request of eurosceptic members of Topolanek's Civic Democratic Party. It is unclear just when a ruling on whether the treaty agrees with the Czech constitution will be given.

Topolanek, who inked the treaty along with other EU leaders last December, said the Czech parliament would take up the treaty as soon as the high court had cleared it.

Merkel sells Lisbon

Anti Lisbon Treaty graffiti in Dublin, Ireland,

Opposition to the Lisbon Treaty is still prevalent in pockets throughout the EU

Merkel said she hoped ratification of the treaty by Prague would be achieved by the time the Czechs began their presidency of the EU so the bloc could continue working with Ireland on "completing ratification" there.

She said the Lisbon Treaty would be necessary to boost simpler and closer relationships between EU states.

"In the current financial crisis, we can see how important such relationships are," Merkel said.

Merkel also used the meeting with Topolanek to dispel concerns the Czech Republic was not the right fit for the EU's six-month rotating presidency.

"We will have a good presidency. I think the Czech prime minister is looking forward to it," she said, adding that she looked forward to working closely with the Czech government.

Czechs slow on treaty uptake

Czech Prime Minister Mirek Topolanek

Czech Prime Minister Mirek Topolanek has remained critical of the Lisbon Treaty despite giving his approval

The Czech premier acknowledged it would be problematic for the EU's presiding country to negotiate on future ratification steps with Dublin without itself having ratified the pact.

Irish voters rejected the accord, aimed at streamlining decision-making in the 27-member bloc, in a June referendum.

Ireland was the only country to take the treaty to the polls, while the Czech Republic and Sweden are also yet to ratify the treaty.

Topolanek, whose governing party has a significant eurosceptic streak, called the treaty "a very tough compromise" and the price for belonging to "a certain orbit of civilization."

"That is why I support it despite all the problems I have with it," he said.

Merkel's meeting with Topolanek also focused on the financial crisis affecting most major economies.

The Czech government and central bank have said the Czech banking system was stable and the country has not been hit hard by the global financial crisis.

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