Europe, Headlines, Human Rights | Analysis

EUROPE: Still Preparing to Trip Up the Big Treaty

Analysis by Zoltán Dujisin

BUDAPEST, May 14 2009 (IPS) - In spite of the Lisbon Treaty's approval by both houses of the Czech Parliament, President Vaclav Klaus is refusing to sign the document that many believe would allow the EU to deal effectively with the global economic crisis.

Approving the EU (European Union) Treaty on Institutional Reform (the Lisbon Treaty) would give the EU more powers to tackle the present crisis.

While the Czech Senate approved the treaty last week, it still requires the President's signature. Klaus says he will wait for the result of the Irish repeat referendum on the treaty in October before making up his mind.

The Irish public rejected the Lisbon Treaty in a first referendum held in June 2008.

Besides the Czech and Irish obstacles, the treaty is awaiting a decision by the German Constitutional Court over its legality, and the signature of Polish President Lech Kaczynski, who also wants to wait for the results of the Irish referendum.

"National leaders have signed the treaty and they have committed themselves to the ratification process," Julia De Clerck-Sachsse, EU affairs analyst at the Brussels-based Centre for European Policy Studies told IPS. "It is not a good development that the current uncertainty is protracted by pushing around the responsibility for its approval instead of taking a clear stance."

But as the Czech Republic holds the six-month rotating EU presidency, what the EU fears most is that Klaus will do everything in his power to sabotage a treaty he has never refrained from criticising in public.

Klaus believes the EU treaty will further erode the national sovereignty of member states, and says the EU lacks sufficient democratic legitimacy.

De Clerck-Sachsse says the treaty will democratise the EU. "The treaty will actually increase the democratic legitimacy of EU policy making by increasing the powers of the European Parliament as well as giving more powers to national parliaments to control what happens at the EU level," she told IPS.

"There is even the possibility of citizens to become directly involved though the Citizens Initiative, whereby one million citizens can make a proposal for legislation to the European Commission."

While the position of Czech President is mostly ceremonial, he now occupies a temporary void of power since March when prime minister Mirek Topolanek's government was forced to resign after losing a no-confidence vote moved by renegade deputies from his own party, the neo-liberal ODS (Civic Democrats).

Most in the party were initially hostile to the Lisbon Treaty, but have come to accept it as inevitable even if all internal dissent is not silenced.

The loudest voice of dissent came from none other than the country's President, who recently abandoned the ODS, which he had founded, feeling betrayed by the party's conformism towards Brussels and the EU.

Klaus himself was instrumental in bringing down the government of his former party, and is trying to gain a greater role in the country's EU presidency in the absence of a well-established cabinet.

New Prime Minister Jan Fischer, presently chairman of the Czech Statistical Office, has set up a government of unaffiliated experts which will take the country to early elections scheduled for October, but still has to pass a vote of confidence in parliament.

While the President welcomed Fischer's appointment, considering him a "prudent man", he is not hiding plans to get more personally involved in the presidency.

Klaus is already poised to host the EU-Russia summit, and will attempt the same with the EU-China Summit, and the EU summit that marks the end of the Czech presidency in June.

The latter is the most feared possibility in Brussels, as Klaus would chair a discussion with Ireland on the best way to ratify the treaty there.

Fischer has so far avoided confrontation with the President, and says his priority is to successfully complete the country's EU presidency, which has been marred by diplomatic escapades and the humiliation of the Czech Republic becoming the first country ever to see its government fall while holding the EU presidency.

The implication is that until the next presidency takes power in June, the EU will lack credible leadership as it faces the worst financial crisis in its history, making the adoption of the treaty ever more pressing in its supporters' view.

"In addition to reforming the decision process, the Lisbon Treaty would make the EU more capable to act for example in the field of foreign affairs as it will concentrate authority in the hands of a high representative for foreign policy," De Clerck-Sachsse told IPS. "If the treaty is ratified, the EU will function more efficiently, and we will be able to leave behind the debate on treaty reform and instead focus on actual policies."

However, the treaty may face additional trouble from a group of Czech senators who, opposing the treaty's approval in the Upper House, are promising to lodge a constitutional complaint against it.

"If this occurs, I will not think of ratifying or not ratifying the Lisbon treaty before the Constitutional Court delivers its ruling," Klaus said.

This would be the second time the treaty goes to the Czech Constitutional Court; only this time the entire document will be under scrutiny, not just a few provisions in it.

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