Post-Brexit, Czech PM urges EU to respect states' rights

by Reuters
Tuesday, 28 June 2016 11:56 GMT

By Gabriela Baczynska

BRUSSELS, June 28 (Reuters) - Czech Prime Minister Bohuslav Sobotka joined calls on Tuesday from central and eastern Europe to rein in the powers of the EU's executive Commission in the wake of Britain's vote to leave the bloc.

Last week's 'Brexit' vote has alarmed governments in the former communist region who saw Britain as a eurosceptic ally in their efforts to reduce centralised control from Brussels.

"We need to change the overall functioning of the EU and I think it is needed to change the functioning of the European Commission," Sobotka said in Brussels, where he was to attend an EU summit to discuss the Brexit shock later in the day.

"Member states should be the engine of positive changes in the EU ... I would be very glad if the Commission were more helpful in finding compromises within the EU."

Tension between the Brussels executive, which drafts and enforces EU legislation, and the currently 28 member states, which exercise supreme authority collectively in the EU Council, has been a permanent feature of the bloc over six decades.

But the Commission led by Luxembourger Jean-Claude Juncker, has particularly irritated some member states, notably in the east, with its efforts to impose fixed quotas on them to take in more of the mass of refugees who have reached Europe from countries like Syria.

The Czech Republic currently holds the rotating presidency of the Visegrad Group, which also brings together Poland, Slovakia and Hungary.

However, Sobotka did not go as far as his foreign minister in saying Juncker was the wrong man for the job, or Poland's foreign minister, who suggested leading figures in Brussels should quit after the British rejection of the EU.

"I would like the Commission to respect more decisions of the European Council," Sobotka said, referring to summits of EU leaders. "If we agreed that there is no consensus on, for example, a compulsory permanent mechanism of (sharing) refugees, it is impossible for the Commision to ignore that."

The former communist, eastern EU members joined the bloc in 2004 and are net beneficiaries of the bloc's budget but have grown increasingly eurosceptic in recent years.

Speaking at an emergency session of the European Parliament on Tuesday, Juncker insisted he was not going to quit, despite the Brexit vote and a recent flurry of media speculation about his health. Some German papers have called on him to go.

"I am neither tired or sick," he said. "I will fight to my last breath for a united Europe."

EU officials argue that Juncker had advised British Prime Minister David Cameron against holding the referendum and so, while it was right for Cameron to accept his responsibility and resign after the result, Juncker bore no such obligation.

Officials in Poland -- the biggest eastern EU state -- said the bloc needs a new treaty and are even mulling proposing such changes to limit Brussels' powers and return more authority to national capitals.

The Visegrad four see Brexit as a strategic blow to their eurosceptic camp in the EU. Poland in particular sees London as its key ally in the bloc.

Both are outside the EU's single currency zone and Warsaw - fearful of Russia - benefits from having a powerful ally who is hawkish on sanctions on Moscow over Ukraine and enjoys very close ties with Washington. (Reporting by Gabriela Baczynska in Brussels and Jan Lopatka in Prague; Editing by Alastair Macdonald and Mark Trevelyan)

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