MEPs pressure Prague to ratify Lisbon treaty
The Czech Republic could be "a bigger problem than Ireland" for the ratification of the Lisbon treaty, German social-democrat MEP Jo Leinen told EUobserver after returning from Prague on a delegation divided by its approach to the problem.
A group of "hardliners in the Senate" and Czech President Vaclav Klaus are playing a "postponing game" on Lisbon, Mr Leinen explained, saying the clique has already ensured Lisbon will not be ratified by the time the Czech republic takes over the EU presidency on 1 January 2009.
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"There will be a shadow on the Czech presidency and they will be confronted with this situation already at the December summit and from the first day of their presidency," the MEP, who is the chairman of the European Parliament's constitutional affairs committee, explained.
The European Parliament delegation visited the Czech capital last week, after a verdict by the constitutional court on whether the EU treaty is compatible with the country's charter was postponed from 10 November to 25 November.
The Czech republic and Ireland are the biggest obstacles to Lisbon ratification, although the German and Polish presidents have also refused to sign off on the text for now.
Prague will resume its parliamentary procedure after the constitutional court verdict. But Ireland rejected the text in a referendum in June, with pro-Lisbon treaty politicians now keen to isolate Dublin to force a second vote.
"The key problem that we face is to oblige and persuade the Irish to change their mind about the Treaty of Lisbon, and the [Czech] presidency will play a key part in that exercise. So instead of becoming part of the solution to the Irish problem, a Czech presidency that is reluctant to ratify itself will become part of the problem," UK liberal MEP Andrew Duff told this website.
"Until they ratify, the Czech EU presidency will not have credibility and authority," he added.
Failure to adopt Lisbon could in the end split the EU into sub-groups, the British constitutional expert warned. "[It would] break the cohesion of the EU, leaving the Czechs and Irish behind, for instance in establishing a separate [EU] treaty in security and defence matters."
Danish eurosceptic MEP Hanne Dahl has complained about the delegation's Czech foray on her personal blog, however, calling her colleagues' attempt to pressure Czech politicians a breach of "normal diplomatic behaviour" and "completely unacceptable."
"What several members of the delegation said was not in any way the official opinion of the EU parliament. The [parliament] did not issue a statement saying that it thinks the Czech republic is not qualified to chair the EU presidency because it didn't ratify the Lisbon Treaty," she said.
Ms Dahl said the situation is exemplary of how smaller EU countries are treated if they do not follow the mainstream, adding that some EU capitals want to set up a rotating EU presidency among just the six biggest EU states if Lisbon fails.
Denmark is also a small country which had four opt-outs from common EU policies when it chaired the EU "quite successfully" in 2002, undermining the argument that the Czech republic cannot do a good job, she argued.
Her remarks left Mr Duff unfazed. "We certainly ought not to apologise at all for putting pressure on the Czech parliament, the sooner they can conclude it [the ratification], the more pleased we would be and the better the prospect for persuading the Irish to alter their mind would be."
'EU dissident' meets No campaigner
Meanwhile, Czech President Vaclav Klaus planned to meet Irish politician and No-campaigner Declan Ganley in Dublin on Tuesday (11 November).
"My predecessor Vaclav Havel also liked to meet dissidents in different countries, so I will now meet a European Union dissident. And I see myself as one of them," Mr Klaus said before making the trip.
Mr Ganley is chairman of the Libertas association, which led the campaign for a No vote in June. Mr Klaus was the only European head of state to welcome the Irish rejection of the treaty, aimed at streamlining EU decision-making after recent enlargement, calling it a "victory over European bureaucracy."
The Libertas website said Mr Ganley was now working on "a platform that could give all EU citizens a chance to express their views on Lisbon at the ballot box next June" - the date of the next European elections.