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The leader of the opposition Social Democrats says the government cannot rely on their support during the Czech Republic’s EU presidency unless the process of ratifying the European Union’s Lisbon treaty begins before the end of the year. Jiří Paroubek issued the warning just two days before a much-anticipated conference of the governing Civic Democrats, where Prime Minister Mirek Topolánek will defend his post as party chairman. Mr Topolánek, who is a supporter of Lisbon, said earlier this week that there would be no attempt to make Civic Democrat lawmakers pledge to back the treaty at the conference, which begins in Prague on Friday.

Mr Paroubek’s Social Democrats have called a special session of the Chamber of Deputies to debate ratification of the EU’s reform document next Tuesday. The prime minister says, however, he will not be pushed into voting on that date. He had previously said a vote could be held in the first three months of 2009: that is, after the Czech Republic’s first six-month presidency of the EU has begun.

Mirek Topolánek’s challenger for the leadership of the Civic Democrats, Pavel Bém, is opposed to Lisbon. He is expected to bring up a previous party resolution pledging not to hand any powers over to Brussels during this weekend’s congress. Mr Bém is close to Czech President Vaclav Klaus, one of Europe’s most vocal opponents of the Treaty of Lisbon. Even if the Czech Parliament approves it, Mr Klaus has indicated he will not sign the document until it has been ratified by Ireland, where voters rejected the document in a referendum in June.

Ahead of this weekend’s vote for the post of chairman of the Civic Democrats, Prime Minister Topolánek is some way ahead of Pavel Bém in terms of pledged support from regional branches. Mr Bém, who is the mayor of Prague, currently occupies the post of first deputy chairman of the party. He launched a challenge against Mr Topolánek in the wake of a drubbing for the party in Senate and regional elections in October.

Meanwhile, Pavel Bém has released a humorous video ahead of the leadership vote. It is based on a popular TV advertisement starring the comedian Petr Čtvrtníček, who himself appears in and directed Mr Bém’s video.