Czech decision on Lisbon treaty only after EU summit
By Honor Mahony
The Czech constitutional court has indicated it will rule on whether the Lisbon Treaty is compatible with Czech national law next week, meaning EU leaders meeting in Brussels on Thursday (29 October) are unlikely to take a final decision on dividing the top jobs in the European Union.
Following a hearing on Tuesday on a legal challenge by 17 conservative senators, the court said it would reconvene on 3 November, when it is likely to give its verdict.
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The decision leaves the EU summit to take place amid continued uncertainty about when and whether the Union will be able to make the switch to the Lisbon Treaty - a move that creates new EU president and foreign minister posts and determines the future shape of the European Commission, whose current mandate expires on Saturday.
All member states have approved the treaty except the Czech Republic whose president Vaclav Klaus has said he will not complete ratification until the court has had its say.
The Swedish EU presidency, which has been hoping for a decisive names-for-posts summit so it can concentrate on policy issues instead, said it needs clarity from Prague first.
"We cannot begin the consultations [on the names] until we have legal clarity. If we obtain legal clarity, then there is time for consultations and a first debate," said Swedish Europe minister Cecilia Malmstrom on Monday, with the momentum for a decision growing since Luxembourg leader Jean-Claude Juncker indicated he would like to be chosen as first occupant of the European Council president post.
These decisions may be put off to an extra summit in November.
Instead this week's traditional autumn summit of EU leaders will have to deal with the minutiae of an eleventh hour call by President Klaus for his country to be exempted from the rights charter contained in the Lisbon Treaty.
Mr Klaus made the surprise demand earlier this month arguing that adoption of the Charter would leave his country open to property demands by ethnic Germans expelled from Czechoslovakia under the so-called Benes Decrees after World War II.
The Czech move prompted Slovakia to say they would veto any solution for Prague if they do not get the same treatment.
"Even though the Benes Decrees aren't in use in practice and can't be used, they are part of the legal system of the Czech Republic and Slovakia ...and the legal protection for Slovakia and its public can't be lower than is the case in the Czech Republic," said Slovak foreign minister Miroslav Lajcak on Monday.
The Slovak stance then led to a retaliatory statement from Hungary. Budapest has cool relations with Bratislava following a 2007 decision by the country to reaffirm the Benes Decrees, which also led to the expulsion of Hungarians from the then Czechoslovakia. Relations are also strained over Bratislava's treatment of the ethnic Hungarians in Slovakia.
Hungarian foreign minister Peter Balazs threatened to block the Czech compromise if there is "one word about the Benes Decrees."
Mr Balazs' spokesperson told EUobserver that the country has four demands, including that the Czech text "should not have any reference to the past or any reference to national legislation ...and it should only concern the member state where ratification is still ongoing."
For its part the Czech government indicated the proposed solution will be as bland as possible. Czech Europe minister Stefan Fuele said Monday that the "Benes decrees" will not be mentioned in the opt-out text. "In our proposal we will not refer to any concrete part of our legislation," Mr Fuele said, according to Ceske Noviny.
He indicated that a possible solution would be to simply add the name of the country alongside Poland and the UK which are also exempt from the Charter of Fundamental Rights, but for different reasons.
The discussions on the Czech opt out which are set to run into the summit are taking place even though most analysts agree the charter will not lead to the property claims Mr Klaus says he fears.