Czechs prepare for possible second Irish No
By Honor Mahony
The Czech EU presidency is preparing a contingency plan for one of the most sensitive areas in the EU institutional set-up in case Ireland rejects Europe's new treaty for a second time later this year.
According to the Irish Times newspaper, Prague is working on a plan for how to reduce the size of the European Commission should Irish voters once again vote No in autumn.
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"On the composition of the commission we have to be ready for both possible scenarios: One scenario is that the Lisbon Treaty enters force at the end this year or we have to act and co-operate in the EU under Nice," deputy prime minister Alexander Vondra told the newspaper.
The rules of the Nice Treaty state that if the number of EU member states reaches 27, the number of commissioners would then be reduced. The EU's pending set of new rules, known as the Lisbon Treaty, however allows the continuation of one commissioner per member state if all EU governments unanimously agree to it.
As part of a patchwork deal hammered out late in 2008 in the aftermath of Ireland's No, Dublin has already secured a deal to invoke this one-commissioner-per-state agreement. The Irish government hope this and other parts of the deal will act as an incentive to persuade Irish voters to say yes to the Lisbon Treaty.
If they vote No again, the bloc will remain with the Nice Treaty and a quick solution to the commissioner issue will have to be found so that the next EU commission, which ends its term in autumn, can be put in place.
One solution that has been touted would be for all member states to maintain a commissioner except for the country that holds the position of EU foreign policy chief. At the moment, this would mean that Spain would lose its commissioner.
Having a national in the EU's executive is important to member states – particularly small ones - who believe it means keeping a power channel at the heart of Brussels decision-making, although commissioners are supposed to act independently of their nationality.
Meanwhile, Ireland is not the only country with a continued question mark over the Lisbon Treaty.
The Czech Republic has also not ratified the document. Czech President Vaclav Klaus, a eurosceptic and strong opponent of the treaty, on Wednesday repeated his opposition in a message directed to European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso
"I hope that Mr Barroso will visit our country more frequently and that I will change [his opinion] and he will very soon join my camp in the matter of the Lisbon Treaty," he said according to Czech news agency CTK.
The treaty still has yet to be passed by the Czech parliament.