THE Czech Republic takes over the rotating presidency of the European Union from France on January 1 next. It will be the first former Soviet bloc country to lead the EU but it is also one of the least enthusiastic of the EU's 27 member states over the directions that the Union is taking on a variety of matters. The Czechs are probably the closest to Britain's Conservative Party in thinking that the EU should halt its expanding role in various directions

and instead concentrate on reforms to make its existing administrative machinery more efficient. In an ironic coincidence it will probably fall to the Czechs to decide how best to rescue the Lisbon Treaty following its rejection by the Irish electorate earlier this year.

The Czech government was not pleased by Nicolas Sarkozy's recent suggestion that he should retain responsibility for EU economic policies when Paris hands over the presidency to Prague in seven weeks. Since the Czech republic is not a member of the eurozone there was a certain logic in the French president's proposal at a time that he has been playing a leading role in many EU economic initiatives. Nonetheless the proposal was made rather clumsily without sufficient advance consultation and Sarkozy has now dropped it. There are many historical reasons to explain why the Czechs are such reluctant Europeans. But it is to be hoped that on 1 January the Czech President Vaclav Klaus will rescind his ruling that the European Union should not fly alongside the Republic flag at Prague Castle.