Civic Democrat senators delay ratification of EU Lisbon Treaty

The upper house of the Czech parliament, the Senate, voted to send the so-called Lisbon Treaty to the Constitution Court on Thursday, a move that could delay Czech ratification of the EU reform treaty by several months. The motion was passed thanks to senators from the right-of-centre Civic Democrats, the main party in the coalition government. But why did they delay approving what is essentially the government’s own foreign policy?

The Civic Democrats are a party with a strong strand of euro-scepticism running through it. It was, after all, party leader and prime minister Mirek Topolánek who described the document’s predecessor - the old EU Constitution – as “shit”, and he used the English word. Other Civic Democrat politicians reach for similar language when asked about the EU. But to be fair, the party agreed back in October that it would send the Lisbon Treaty to the Constitutional Court for examination.

The Civic Democrats, who control the Senate, object to three areas in the reform treaty: (a) the relegation of some powers to the European level (b) changing the decision-making process in the EU Council from unanimous to majority voting, whereby EU countries would lose their right to veto, and (c) recognition of the new Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union. All of these, the senators argued, could be in contravention with the Czech Republic’s own constitution.

The problem is, it’s unclear how long it will take the Constitutional Court to decide whether that is the case. One Civic Democrat senator said it would take weeks just to arrange for the text to be sent to the court in Brno. The chairman of the court, Pavel Rychetský, says he will make it a priority to examine the document as quickly as possible.

Mr Rychetský is an appointee of the opposition Social Democrats, who are very much in favour of approving the Lisbon Treaty as quickly as possible. But even he warns it could take a very long time indeed, even though he’s given himself a personal goal of getting it examined within three months.

The EU wants the document to be ratified by all 27 members by the beginning of 2009, which is when the Czech Republic takes over the revolving presidency of the European Union. The prospect of the EU reform treaty being ratified by all 26 EU members with the exception of the country that is in charge of the EU would be extremely embarrassing for the government. It is likely, therefore, that the Czechs will ratify the Lisbon Treaty well before they take over the reins of the EU.