"E.U. President Calls U.S. Stimulus the ‘Way to Hell’
BRUSSELS — Transatlantic tension over the handling of the global economic crisis intensified Wednesday when the prime minister of the Czech Republic, which holds the European Union presidency, described the President Obama’s stimulus measures as the “way to hell.”
Addressing the European Parliament in Strasbourg, France, Prime Minister Mirek Topolanek argued that the Obama administration’s fiscal package and financial bailout “will undermine the stability of the global financial market.”
Mr. Topolanek’s comments, only a day after he offered his government’s resignation following a no confidence vote, took European officials by surprise.
The rotating European Union presidency lasts for six months and the country that holds it is supposed to speak on behalf of the entire 27-nation bloc.
The statement came just a week before a meeting in London of the Group of 20 which will bring together the leaders of the 19 leading industrial and developing nations and the European Union to forge an international consensus on the economic crisis. His comments also underlined potential ideological strains between Washington and Europe as Mr. Obama prepares to travel to Prague in less than two weeks for a summit meeting intended to bolster trans-Atlantic relations and show that the United States and Europe are united over economic policy.
Only five days ago, European Union leaders had reached a carefully constructed political truce designed to bury their differences and agree on a common policy ahead of the London meeting. At last Friday’s European Union summit meeting, they pledged an additional 75 billion euros to finance loans by the International Monetary Fund and to double a credit line for its struggling Eastern European economies.
European countries, including Germany, have resisted calls to increase the scale of their fiscal stimulus, arguing that the G-20 should concentrate on tightening financial regulation.
One European Union official, speaking on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue, said the comments reflected that, unlike other Eastern European countries like Hungary, the Czech economy has proved relatively resilient.
“He is sitting in the Czech Republic,” the official said “where growth is holding up relatively well and a fiscal stimulus makes no sense.”
“He has never been in favor of a big fiscal stimulus — though he did not argue against it at the E.U. summit.”
Analysts in Prague said that Mr. Topolanek was eager to show Europe that he was still politically relevant despite the collapse of the government. They noted that his railing against interventionism was consistent with the liberal economic ideology of his center-right Civic Democratic party.
In recent months, he has sparred with opposition Social Democrats over their calls for increased spending during the economic downturn.
While Mr. Obama in recent weeks has pleaded with European partners to stimulate the economy, countries like the Czech Republic, which endured decades of Communism, are deeply suspicious of state intervention.
The Czech leader’s comments were likely to come as an embarrassment to Gordon Brown, the British prime minister, who was visiting the United States on Wednesday as part of the preparations for hosting the G-20 meeting.
Martin Schulz, leader of the socialist group in the European Parliament, said that the description of the Obama recovery plans as “the road to hell” was “not the level on which the E.U. ought to be operating with the United States.”
“You have not understood what the task of the E.U. presidency is,” Mr. Schulz told Mr. Topolanek.