Thursday

25th May 2017

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.

MEPs vote to start democracy probe on Hungary

The European Parliament took the first step towards launching the Article 7 procedure against Hungary for backsliding on democracy. The process might lead to sanctions, but Orban is not backing down.

MEPs preparing to crack down on Orban

The EU assembly's largest group is split by its "enfant terrible", but enough MEPs are likely to abstain or vote Yes on the "Article 7" crackdown over Orban's illiberal rule.

Macron and Merkel to 'reconstruct' the EU

The French and German leaders will present a common proposal to deepen and strengthen the EU and the eurozone. They say they are ready to change the EU treaties.

Analysis

Where might Macron clash with Europe?

After the celebrations around Europe of centrist Emmanuel Macron's win over far-right Marine Le Pen, the sobering years of governance are still to come. Macron might be pro-EU, but he has a lot of reform ideas that might irk others.

Schulz fails to beat Merkel in German home state

Former EU parliament leader, Martin Schulz, says the defeat of his social-democrats in North Rhine-Westphalia is "difficult". The elections showed that a "Schulz effect" does not (yet) exist.

Austria heading for snap elections

Foreign minister Kurz has taken leadership of the conservative party in what could lead to an alliance with the far-right.

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