Tuesday

16th Jul 2019

Klaus keeps EU guessing on future of Lisbon Treaty

  • Prague is keeping the rest of the EU waiting (Photo: Metal Chris)

The Czech constitutional court will hear a challenge to the EU's Lisbon Treaty at the end of October. But the relief in Brussels at having a clear timetable is being undermined by the continued unpredictability of Czech President Vaclav Klaus, who holds the fate of the treaty in his hands.

The court on Tuesday (13 October) said it would examine whether the treaty is compatible with the Czech constitution at a hearing on 27 October. The dramatic timing will see the discussion held just two days before an EU summit in Brussels on the text.

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In the past, Czech court has usually given its verdict a few days after such a hearing. But this is not a hard and fast rule.

If the judges reject the challenge, the treaty still has to be signed by Mr Klaus, a eurosceptic and arch opponent of the document.

Mr Klaus recently made those who believe he will not sign even after judicial approval more nervous by throwing out an eleventh-hour demand for Prague to get an opt-out from the Charter of Fundamental Rights, a part of Lisbon.

Czech Prime Minister Jan Fischer, in an embarassing political situation, on Tuesday flew to Brussels to reassure European Commission chief Jose Manuel Barroso of the Czech government's good intentions.

But it was evident in the press conference afterwards that Mr Fischer was as unsure as everybody else on what Mr Klaus' next move will be.

He said he had asked Mr Klaus to "provide a clear and explicit guarantee" that the president will complete ratification in "due course."

Mr Klaus has kept silent on what the opt-out should look like.

One solution is for EU leaders to make a political declaration on 29 October which could later be tacked on to the treaty in a protocol. But other solutions may require re-opening the ratification process by all 27 states - a horror scenario for the EU.

Mr Fischer has said the Czech government does "not believe it is possible to open the ratification process" but Mr Klaus has not made a similar public statement.

The Czech ratification saga is being viewed with some disbelief among EU officials, who point to the fact that both houses of the Czech parliament have already passed the treaty.

The commission and the Swedish EU presidency have been upping the political pressure by making a show of unity along with the Czech prime minister.

But there is a reluctance to issue any outright political threats to Mr Klaus for fear that it will strengthen his hand.

Mr Barroso contented himself with pointing out that Mr Klaus himself signed the country's EU accession treaty and himself originally asked for the Czech Republic to be a member of the 27-nation club.

Meanwhile, as Mr Klaus considers his next moves, a series of pressing EU institutional questions are waiting to be dealt with, all of which require clarity on when and whether the EU will move from its current treaty to the Lisbon text.

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