Czech senate approves EU's Lisbon treaty
By Honor Mahony
The Czech Senate on Wednesday (6 May) approved the EU's Treaty of Lisbon, a move that was greeted with relief in Brussels and that ups the pressure on Ireland, facing its second referendum on the document.
Fifty-four of the 79 senators voted in favour of the new institutional rules, which introduce an EU foreign minister, a permanent president of the European Council and widely extend the powers of the European Parliament. The lower house passed the document in February.
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The vote, which was preceded by six hours of debate, opens up the possibility that the treaty could come into force by the beginning of next year, a timetable pushed by France and Germany.
Outgoing Czech Prime Minister Mirek Topolanek, who had previously questioned the merits of the treaty, urged the house to back it.
"We have to avoid facing another shameful moment after the shameful cabinet's fall mid-way through the EU presidency," he said last Friday, according to the CzechNews website. Mr Topolanek's government was ousted last month and is being replaced by a caretaker government.
He also said his country would be sidelined if it said "no" to the treaty and that other countries would use a rejection as an excuse to stop further enlargement of the European Union.
European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso called the result "very good news" and said it reflected the Czech Republic's "commitment to a more democratic, accountable, effective and coherent European Union."
For the ratification process to be completed, the treaty still has to be signed by the country's eurosceptic president, Vaclav Klaus.
He has previously indicated he would not sign it no matter what the outcome of the parliamentary votes.
In a reference to Mr Klaus, the commission president said he hoped the remaining "constitutional requirements" would be completed as quickly as possible.
No more concessions to Ireland
The Czech move significantly ups the pressure on the Irish government, which is hoping to secure a Yes vote in a referendum in the autumn after Irish voters rejected the treaty last summer.
Speaking earlier on Wednesday, European Parliament President Hans-Gert Poettering said: "We've gone as far in our concessions to Ireland as we can," referring to the fact that Ireland is to receive certain guarantees on neutrality, tax and social issues as well as securing the principle of one commissioner per member state as part of a sweetener deal to entice voters to say "yes" this time round.
He indicated that member state "solidarity" would run out if Ireland voted "no" for a second time.
Germany and Poland have also not finished ratification of the treaty, with the presidents in both countries not having signed the document.
Germany's Horst Koehler is waiting for the outcome of a legal challenge to the treaty, while Poland's Lech Kaczynski has said he wants to await the outcome of the Irish vote before putting pen to paper.