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Tomas Kafka: Optimism may be born of this spectre

A spectre is haunting the European Union again. It is the spectre of another European treaty, but this time the treaty is known as the fiscal compact.

However, judging it according to its spirit, it should be seen as an attempt to restore mutual trust within this EU community. It is up to each member state to figure out how to help with this difficult task.

The Czech Republic decided -- as did Great Britain -- to stay, for the moment, outside of the compact. This stance was influenced by many different factors, with perhaps the most crucial one being that the Czech Republic has not yet joined the eurozone. Thus it does not yet have direct access to the liquidity of the ECB, but it does, at least temporarily, have a brief time-out. The Czech Republic can, however, be spared the main dilemmas of its EU-peers.

Therefore it is important to pose the following questions: How do we adjust our economies so that they can be regarded as sustainable? How do we change our lifestyle so that we would be able to reconcile democracy with prosperity? How do we overcome our fear of the future?

The truth is that in times of crisis, financial markets care more for themselves than our talk about democracy. Or, better said, they are quite impervious to political way of thinking. They want to see their money safe. No wonder then, that the mutual trust and belief in the future do not thrive in such circumstances.

The Czech government is fully aware of the current state of play and all the risks attached. It maintains its doubts about the effectiveness of the fiscal treaty, yet it behaves in quiet solidarity with its partners.

Any solidarity has its undeniable costs. A fiscal compact is not the ultimate answer to economic problems in the EU. However, it could stir up a serious argument among the Czech Republic's highest constitutional representatives about their stance on European integration.

Yet regardless of this argument, the Czech government is close to fulfilling the conditions of the Maastricht Treaty. It accepted the request to provide the IMF with a voluntary, not insignificant, loan in order to enhance the existing rescue mechanisms. It signed -- as did Ireland -- the common letter making a strong case for the growth agenda within the EU by accomplishing a single market.

The Czech Republic, to paraphrase a former American president, may not be smoking the fiscal treaty but it is definitely inhaling its spirit. It is, therefore, logical to ask why the Czech government opted for such a solitary way. This decision could moreover cement the reputation of the Czech Republic as a kind of a troublemaker. Although the prevailing sentiment is the fear of the future, the answer to the Czech question rests in the past.

Czech modern history underwent a lot of painful disjointedness. Czech society had to "try" the real taste of two different dictatorships and did not pass this test without consequences. The feeling of cohesion and the belief in progress were repeatedly wasted and compromised. No wonder that over the years, scepticism has almost replaced ice hockey as our primary national sport.

Yet scepticism does not mean negativism. We are far from being negative. We may, perhaps, just need to be more convinced before signing up to anything, especially, when it tries to promise a better future. This Czech scepticism need not be just an liability. It can be a useful reminder that as long as the member states of the EU behave irresponsibly, they cannot be too impatient as well.

A healthy portion of the scepticism could, therefore, be seen as being complementary to the fiscal treaty and its claim that there is no sustainability without responsibility. Responsible economic development could, on the other hand, protect us Czechs from applying an unnecessarily high dose of scepticism.

This puts the fiscal compact in a unique situation. If it delivers its part on the recovery of European economics we may witness a variety of wonders: the restoration of mutual trust within the EU, economic responsibility within the eurozone and, last but not least, optimistic Czechs.

Such an auspicious perspective does not make the fiscal compact more likeable. For now it remains a spectre. However, really scary is rather the sensation that we, probably, cannot do without it.

Dr Tomas Kafka is the Czech Ambassador to Ireland

Sunday Independent