Czech president raises EU flag to signal change from Klaus era

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PRAGUE (Reuters) – The new Czech president hoisted the European Union flag at the seat of the country’s presidency for the first time on Wednesday, marking a significant shift in attitude from his euroskeptic predecessor.

The Czech Republic joined the bloc in 2004, along with nine other countries, but then President Vaclav Klaus refused to raise the flag at Prague Castle, an ancient landmark.

But after Klaus’s departure from office last month, new leftist President Milos Zeman – a self-proclaimed euro-federalist – made a point of hoisting the flag with much fanfare in one of his first public appearances.

European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso accompanied Zeman at the flag-raising ceremony, which featured a military band playing Czech and EU anthems.

The Czechs remain detached from the European Union’s inner core, having chosen not to adopt the euro so far. There is no change on that front – the country of 10.5 million people has no target date for euro adoption and the public has become increasingly skeptical during the euro zone debt crisis.

The center-right cabinet has refused to join the bloc’s budget pact, called the fiscal compact, and is cool on any steps towards further integration.

In another symbolic act, Zeman signed a European treaty addendum on Wednesday that formally allows euro zone countries to launch the euro zone rescue fund, the European Stability Mechanism.

The plan had been ratified by all other members of the 27-state bloc and the fund was set up anyway without Czech backing.

(Reporting by Jan Lopatka- Editing by Pravin Char)

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