Monday

26th Sep 2016

Poland ratifies Lisbon Treaty as Czech cloud hangs overhead

Polish President Lech Kaczynski signed the Lisbon Treaty at a ceremony in Warsaw on Saturday (10 October). But Czech head of state Vaclav Klaus put a dampener on the occasion with attempts to revive World War II-era tensions from his castle in Prague.

The Polish ceremony got off to a humorous start.

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After making the EU wait for 557 days since the Polish parliament passed the treaty and in full view of foreign VIPs and TV cameras, Mr Kaczynski's first pen failed to write, forcing him to ask for a new one.

"It wasn't planned," a Polish official, Pawel Wypych, later told Polish TV.

Mr Kaczynski warmly endorsed Poland's EU membership. But he said integration should not go too far and indicated that his accord is based on trust that the EU will take in more former Communist states in the future.

"Without any complexes, without fears we have opted for further integration with the European Union, because we feel good, we feel confident inside this fellowship," he said. "The union is a collection of sovereign states and will remain so. But co-operation will become ever more close."

"The union as an exceptionally successful experiment cannot be closed to others who want to join it. Not just Balkan countries, but also Ukraine, Georgia, in the future, others. The union can't say No to them," he added, in his final words before putting pen to paper.

The event was attended by EU commission chief Jose Manuel Barroso, Swedish leader and EU president-in-office Frederik Reinfeldt and Mr Kaczynski's political nemesis, Polish premier Donald Tusk.

News emerged earlier on Saturday that 60 Polish MPs have signed a petition to send the treaty to the Polish Constitutional Tribunal to see if it is compatible with national law.

The move, if it goes ahead, could force Prime Minister Tusk to give MPs more powers over his dealings with Brussels in line with recent reforms in Germany.

But the real cloud hanging over the events in Warsaw was a grumpy Vaclav Klaus, who made clear on Friday that he plans to push for last-minute changes to the EU's new treaty at the upcoming 29 October summit.

Klaus reveals his hand

The Czech president said in a statement that he wants Prague to get an exemption from the Charter of Fundamental Rights on the model of Polish and British opt-outs, which were added to Lisbon in 2007 in a special protocol.

The opt-out is needed, he added, in order to make sure that German families expelled from the Czech Republic 65 years ago cannot use EU courts to claim back their property.

"[The charter] will make it possible to bypass Czech courts and to raise property claims, for example, of those displaced after World War II directly before the Court of Justice of the EU," he said.

From a legal point of view, it is unclear whether Mr Klaus as president is entitled to demand changes on behalf of Prague or if the other 26 EU states would have to re-ratify the document if a change is made.

The Czech president voiced anger that Sweden's Mr Reinfeldt forced him to unveil his Lisbon challenge earlier than he had planned, by revealing the contents of their phone conversation on Thursday to journalists.

"After the disclosure of the contents of our conversation that – according to our agreement – was to stay confidential, a number of speculations appeared that I'd like to stop," he said.

Balkan leaders pledge to keep out migrants

Balkan leaders said in New York there would be no repetition of last year's mass influx of refugees, as the EU prepares to launch a new border force to keep people out.

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