PRAGUE — The prime minister of the Czech Republic says it could have been his taste for the rock group AC/DC — not his study of economics — that inspired him to describe President Barack Obama's nearly $2 trillion economic plan as "the road to hell."
"Last week, AC/DC played the Czech Republic," Mirek Topolanek told the Lidove Noviny daily newspaper Friday. "And their cult song 'Highway to Hell' may have influenced me to use, in my very improvised speech, 'the road to hell.'"
A week after seeing the Australian band, Topolanek departed from his prepared text in a speech Wednesday before the European Parliament, which included the phrase "the road to destruction" — substituting instead the controversial phrase.
Trying to explain the remarks, his spokesman, Jiri Frantisek Potuznik, said Friday that Topolanek merely meant to warn U.S. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner against taking "permanent action" that would damage the free market.
Topolanek may get a chance to elaborate on what he meant. Obama visits Prague April 4 and 5.
But the outburst highlighted differences between the U.S. and Europe over the recovery with the 27-nation bloc bristling over from U.S. criticism that it is not spending enough to stimulate demand.
Still, European politicians went into damage control mode, with some reproaching the Czech leader for his language and others reaffirming their good diplomatic ties with the United States.
Topolanek comments Wednesday came a day after he was ousted by his own parliament. The Czech Republic currently holds the six-month rotating EU presidency but its leadership is in question, with Topolanek hanging on to a caretaker government at home after losing a "no confidence" Tuesday.
Europeans leaders hope the new U.S. administration will agree with them on tightening oversight over the global financial system — which they see as crucial to fixing the global economy.
Instead, the United States is focusing its efforts on economic stimulus and plans to spend heavily to try and lift itself out of recession with a $787 billion plan of tax rebates, health and welfare benefits, as well as extra energy and infrastructure spending.