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Europe

Toppling of Czech Leader Raises Concerns Over EU Presidency

Mirek Topolanek will likely serve out the term of his country's EU presidency, but the bloc's politicians are worried about the legitimacy of a leader ousted by his own government and the fate of the Lisbon Treaty.

Czech Prime Minister, President of the European council Mirek Topolanek (L) and European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso

The ouster of Topolanek (left) could hurt the Lisbon Treaty's chances

Czech Prime Minister Mirek Topolanek, whose center-right government was brought down by a no-confidence vote in parliament on Tuesday, said domestic politics will have no impact on Prague's EU presidency.

"At the moment this situation has no effect on the role of the President of the European Council," he said in an EU presidency statement.

Topolanek said he would offer his resignation, but that the government could stay in place in a caretaker capacity until the end of the EU presidency, in June.

EU leadership worries

The toppling of Topolanek's coalition raised concerns over the Czech Republic's ability to carry out the rest of its EU leadership term, at a time when the world's largest trading bloc is going through its worst economic crisis in decades.

Topolanek's ousting precedes the G20 summit of world leaders in London as well as a special EU summit with US President Barack Obama in early April.

Czech President Vaclav Klaus addresses a formal session of the European Parliament in Brussels

Czech President Vaclav Klaus is more skeptical of the EU

Europe needs strong leadership in these times of crisis," Joseph Daul, head of the center-right European People's Party, the largest parliamentary group in Strasbourg, told AFP.

"A government which assumes the EU presidency, but in which there is no confidence, cannot assume this leadership," he added.

Fate of Lisbon Treaty even more uncertain

The fall of the Czech government also calls into question the future of the controversial Lisbon Treaty, which is meant to streamline the EU bureaucracy but was torpedoed by the Irish in a referendum.

Even the Czechs have cast their doubts about the treaty and although the document has already been approved in the lower house of parliament, the upper senate has yet to ratify it.

Topolanek had strongly supported the treaty despite opposition from party backbenchers. He had even once said, "If I lose control of the situation (in my party), then the Lisbon Treaty will not pass."

Flag of EU on left and Czech Republic to the right.

Czech EU presidency ends in June, when Sweden takes over

On the other hand, Czech President Vaclav Klaus, who has the power to appoint a new prime minister with parliamentary backing, refused to confirm whether he would give his blessing to the treaty.

Klaus' hand could be strengthened if Topolanek's government is replaced by one that is more skeptical of EU political integration.

Image of EU's leadership hurt

Even before the Czechs assumed the EU presidency, there had already been concerns in diplomatic circles about the ability of Topolanek's government, as opposed to heavy hitters like France's Nicolas Sarkozy, who preceded him, to lead the bloc during a deep economic crisis.

Europe's Big Three -- France, Germany and Britain -- are viewed as the EU's major powers. Their leadership carries more weight in foreign affairs than that of smaller countries such as the Czech Republic, which joined the bloc in 2004.

But European leaders are worried about the EU's leadership image. "For the stability and image of Europe, it is going to become more difficult," said Luxembourg Foreign Minister Jean Asselborn.

In practical terms, even left-leaning Czech opposition leader Jiri Paroubek said in Prague after the vote that it was "natural that the government would stay until the end of the EU presidency" on June 30 when Sweden takes over the reins in leading the 27 nation bloc.

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