Czechs give up EU rights charter opt-out, plan joining fiscal pact
PRAGUE (Reuters) - The Czech Republic's new center-left government signaled a turn away from the euro-skepticism of the previous government on Wednesday, when it opened debate on joining the EU's fiscal compact and said it would give up an opt-out from a pact on human rights.
The three-party cabinet, led by Prime Minister Bohuslav Sobotka, won its inaugural vote of confidence in parliament on Tuesday and declared its readiness to take a more pro-integration approach on European matters than its predecessors.
Sobotka said he would tell European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso in Brussels on Thursday that Czechs no longer demand an opt-out from a charter on human rights. The exception was negotiated by the euro-sceptic former president, Vaclav Klaus, in return for his ratification of the EU's 2009 Lisbon treaty, which streamlined decision-making in the bloc.
Sobotka said the government also formally opened discussions on Wednesday on joining the EU's fiscal compact, a pact on budget stability that has been signed by all EU members except for the Czechs - under the previous center-right government - and the United Kingdom.
"I will inform (Barroso) that the Czech Republic is ready to rescind its request for an opt-out from the charter of human rights and freedoms, and also that we have started serious discussion on joining the fiscal pact," Sobotka told reporters after a cabinet meeting.
"This is a significant signal that the Czech Republic's position within the EU is shifting, our relation to agreements being made on the European level is changing."
The treaty, agreed after a debt crisis swept through the EU periphery in recent years, sets rules on budget deficits that are binding for euro zone countries. Most of the non-euro EU member states have also joined the pact, although they cannot be penalized for not meeting all the budget rules.
Referring to the previous center-right cabinet's alliance with the United Kingdom on the fiscal treaty, Sobotka said it was "absurd".
"The Czech Republic does not want anymore to stay on the sidelines, in isolation, and also does not want to forge alliances that are somewhat absurd form the point of view of our national interests," he said.
(Reporting by Jan Lopatka; Editing by Larry King)