28th Feb 2021

Brussels in limbo over Klaus treaty delay

  • Jose Manuel Barroso (l) and Fredrik Reinfeldt - waiting for clarity (Photo: The Council of the European Union)

The heads of the EU's three main institutions on Wednesday (7 September) came together to point out to Czech President Vaclav Klaus the "costs" to Europe if he continues to delay ratification of the Lisbon Treaty, the union's new rulebook.

European Commission chief Jose Manuel Barroso, European Parliament President Jerzy Buzek and Fredrik Reinfeldt, the Swedish Prime Minister and the current chair of the EU, said several pending decisions are awaiting clarification from Prague.

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Chief among the issues hanging in the balance is whether the Swedish presidency will be able to press ahead with a planned summit on EU institutional affairs at the end of the month, where the names for the new president of the European Council, the EU foreign minister and commissioner portfolios are to be agreed.

Mr Reinfeldt said it would be "wrong" to start consultations on these posts "without further clarification" from Prague, while Mr Buzek said there should be "clear information about how costly it is [the delay] for other member states."

The uncertainty stems from the fact that the Czech constitutional court is examining a legal challenge to the Lisbon Treaty, lodged by senators close to Mr Klaus. It is unclear how quickly the court will make its decision and, if the decision is positive, how much later Mr Klaus would then sign the treaty, completing ratification.

Time is pressing because the current commission's mandate expires at the end of October, as does the post of the current high representative for foreign affairs, held by Javier Solana.

The Swedish presidency is nervous about entering uncharted legal territory. It can either keep the commission as a caretaker, but ineffectual, executive, or try to set up a new commission under the Lisbon Treaty rules. Another option would be to negotiate a new commission with the current rules, but that would mean unwanted negotiations on reducing its size.

Sweden has repeatedly said it would rather focus on practical issues such as dealing with soaring unemployment in the Union or tackling climate change instead.

For his part, Mr Klaus has remained relatively quiet since Ireland's Yes vote last week. A eurosceptic and a strong opponent of the treaty, he opted not to take a phone call from Stockholm this week and not to meet the Swedish Europe minister, who is travelling to Prague on Thursday.

Other parts of the Czech administration have been more forthcoming, however.

Prime Minister Jan Fischer on Wednesday re-assured his EU colleagues that "all the messages" he had received indicate there is "no reason" for Mr Klaus to defer his signature after any court decision to approve the treaty.

The stalemate has left some MEPs in Brussels frustrated. Belgian Liberal MEP Guy Verhofstadt urged member states to quickly decide on names for the foreign minister and president posts anyway, otherwise they risk being decided at the last minute behind closed doors.

Parliamentarians also expect that the Czech delay will mean that the new European Commission is not cleared to work until next year.

Andrew Duff, UK Liberal MEP, in charge of organising parliament hearings on the prospective commissioners, believes the grillings will take place in December while the EU assembly's vote on the commission as a whole could take place on 20 January.

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