Europe, Headlines

EUROPE: Czechs Could ‘Bury’ Lisbon Treaty

Zoltán Dujisin

PRAGUE, Jul 7 2008 (IPS) - Czech President Vaclav Klaus and politicians from the senior ruling Civic Democrats (ODS) have been inspired by the Irish rejection of the Lisbon Treaty, which could now die in Czech hands.

On Jun. 12 Irish voters rejected the Lisbon Treaty, an EU (European Union) legal document for institutional changes.

“All Europe should thank the Irish,” said Klaus, making him the only EU head of state to openly welcome the referendum result. Klaus is known for his scepticism on human-caused climate change and the role of civil society.

“The Lisbon Treaty project ended today with the Irish voters’ decision and its ratification cannot continue,” Klaus said the day of the Irish referendum. He called it “the victory of freedom and reason over artificial elitist projects and European bureaucracy.”

Leading EU politicians are calling on the Czechs to ratify the treaty, but Prime Minister Mirek Topolanek has stressed that no pressure should be exerted on the Czech Republic. But Topolanek also promised not to take radical positions or change previously held ones.

“The Czech position is difficult, the Treaty is not that popular, and after the Irish vote Czechs aren’t exactly keen to vote on it, even if only a few politicians are really against it,” Daniel Hnizdo, fellow at Charles University in Prague told IPS.

The ODS-dominated Senate has decided to send the Lisbon Treaty to the Constitutional Court to check its compatibility with the country’s constitution, hoping this will take the responsibility for a ‘no’ off their shoulders. However, media reports suggest that most Czech legal experts expect the Court’s decision to be in favour of the Treaty’s adoption.

The ODS’s position runs against the opinion of most of its voters, generally well-off city dwellers with a strongly pro-European orientation.

More important than its voters’ attitudes seems to be the ODS long-held ideology of privileging free markets and U.S. leadership on global security issues over political union among European countries.

The party sees the EU mostly as a source of income through its structural funds, and has little sympathy for pan-European ideals.

An aspect of the Treaty troubling the ODS is the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights that could, in the opinion of ODS politician Marek Benda, “violate individual rights.”

But Topolanek knows that his smaller coalition partners, the Greens and the Christian Democrats, expect the constitution to be approved, and that the opposition is ahead in opinion polls.

“Topolanek’s government isn’t entirely stable, and with a no vote he sees no reason to destabilise it further with a potentially divisive issue,” Hnizdo told IPS.

Czech officials could wait to see what exceptions the EU might offer Ireland in its quest for a compromise, to then seek exceptions itself.

The treaty was supposed to take effect under the Czech rotating EU presidency to begin in January 2009. The Treaty will weaken the meaning of the EU presidency, as the positions of president and foreign minister of the EU, so far held by the country holding the presidency, will be taken over by officials with fixed terms.

Foreign Minister Karel Schwarzenberg says the Czechs would find themselves “in an immensely difficult situation if we did not even start ratification prior to the start of the Czech EU presidency.”

France has just taken over the EU presidency, and French President Nicolas Sarkozy has been in talks with Topolanek, reminding Prague that if it wants further enlargements, it will have to accept Lisbon.

Czechs are strongly pro-enlargement and are very keen on having Croatia join the European club, whose accession, according to EU officials, is impossible without amending previous EU treaties.

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