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Europe

Merkel Makes Little Headway in Charter Talks with Czech Leaders

Despite efforts by German Chancellor Angela Merkel Friday, Czech leaders were still not convinced to support the new, currently moribund European constitution.

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Czech Prime Minister Topolanek is still not convinced, despite Merkel's best efforts

Czech Prime Minister Mirek Topolanek insisted to reporters that "the document must be more understandable for people," and said the Czech Republic would not stand for a quick-fix solution at the cost of quality.

Czech President Vaclav Klaus advocated "smaller steps" in the direction of a constitution, and said the current draft was still "kilometers" away from what the Czech Republic would accept.

Merkel's visit to Prague was within the framework of the German EU presidency's desire to rescue the constitution. The charter has been on ice since French and Dutch voters rejected it in 2005 referendums.

The German EU presidency wants to salvage the substance of the treaty as it stands now, but faces strong opposition from the Czech Republic, and also Poland and Britain. All feel the reform is unnecessary, cumbersome and expensive.

Merkel, putting the best face on the talks, emerged from talks with Toploanek on the vexed issue, saying he had "interesting" ideas.

Topolanek, who has gone on record as dismissing the constitution as a "pile of crap", had produced "a very interesting framework for future detailed discussion," Merkel said after the Prague meeting.

Czech PM calls for complete rewrite

Merkel in Prag

President Klaus is at odds with Merkel over the charter

Topolanek put a finer point on it, complimenting Merkel's "courage" to take up the political challenge but warning that a total rewrite was needed for many passages of the document. He said it would be a mistake to simply try to reduce the scope of the document.

"I salute the German approach with regard to the discussion," the rightwing leader said, adding that their talks centered on the "relaunch of the debate about the EU's institutional framework" had been "short but intense."

"Discussions today did not cover our reservations or the problems, we rather sought out what unites us and what unites European countries," Topolanek added.

The document should "bind together and not separate," Topolanek said. "It should clearly define which competencies the EU has and which fall to the national states," he said.

Merkel warned that Europe would only be successful when all are pushing in the same direction.

President admits views are "kilometers" apart

Tschechien Wahlen Mirek Topolanek Porträt

Not just a little, but a lot: Topolanek wants major changes

After meeting with Klaus, who also has a reputation as a Euro-skeptic, Merkel said there was a "common will to forge ahead."

Klaus was more reserved. "It would be wrong to say we shared the same opinion," he emphasized. But he admitted that he was impressed with Merkel's knowledge of the region's history, when she used a comparison to the Hussite movement of the 15th Century to try to win the leader over to the constitution.

Merkel, the daughter of a Protestant minister, said the Czech leader was fighting against the moribund constitution as tenaciously as the Bohemian Hussite movement, which fought "over every millimeter" of theological territory against dominant Roman Catholicism of the Middle Ages.

Klaus was impressed. The conservative leader complimented Merkel on her excellent knowledge of history, but added that his opposition against a European constitution involved "not just millimeters, but kilometers."

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