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Minister: Czech Government Crisis Threatens EU Expansion

Czech Foreign Minister Karel Schwarzenberg
HLUBOKA NAD VLTAVOU, Czech Republic (Reuters) -- The Czech Republic's political crisis could threaten the European Union's long-term plan to offer membership to new countries, its foreign minister has said.

Last week's no-confidence vote in Czech coalition government has cast doubt on whether it will ratify a long-stalled EU treaty needed to reform decision-making structures in the bloc and allow it to take in new members.

Asked whether a failure by the Czech Republic to ratify the Lisbon Treaty would jeopardize enlargement, Foreign Minister Karel Schwarzenberg said: "Of course it can. Therefore, we must ratify it. It is in our highest national interest to ratify it as soon as possible."

The Lisbon Treaty needs to be ratified by all 27 EU states before it enters force as planned on January 1. Before the Czech crisis, the biggest potential obstacle was seen as an Irish referendum on it to be held later this year.

Diplomats say candidate country Croatia could become the 28th member of the bloc even without the Lisbon Treaty. But after that some kind of institutional reform of EU structures would be needed to make room for Serbia and, ultimately, Turkey.

The collapse of Prime Minister Mirek Topolanek's government makes it uncertain whether the Czech upper house of parliament will give the treaty the final green light. Analysts say the country's constitution gives its euroskeptic President Vaclav Klaus a large say in determining how events now unfold.

"Things have not got easier in the last two or three days," said Luxembourg Foreign Minister Jean Asselborn, an advocate both of the Lisbon Treaty and enlargement.

"A lot lies in the hands of President Klaus," he said.