Czech president throws another spanner in the works of the Lisbon treaty

Václav Klaus, photo: CTK

Eurosceptic president Václav Klaus on Thursday threw another spanner in the works of the Lisbon treaty. During a telephone conversation with Swedish Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt, whose country currently presides over the EU, the Czech president said that he would only sign the Lisbon treaty on two conditions – if the Czech Constitutional Court rejected a legal challenge to it and if the EU was prepared to add a footnote to the treaty pertaining to the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights.

Václav Klaus, photo: CTK
For some time now President Klaus had been under pressure to reveal his intentions. At a press briefing on Friday afternoon he clarified his position. The president said the Lisbon treaty was a bad treaty for the Czech Republic and accused the former government of not having defended the country’s interests adequately – like Britain or Poland – in demanding and getting exemptions on vitally important issues. The president specifically referred to the Beneš decrees which set the ground for the post-war expulsion of Sudeten Germans and argued that the Charter of Fundamental Rights attached to the Lisbon treaty would leave the Czech Republic vulnerable to new property claims from Sudeten Germans or their descendants. He said he was greatly concerned about Czech courts loosing jurisdiction over such issues to foreign courts and stressed that the country needed at least a minimal guarantee in the form of an exemption.

An opt-out of this kind would mean long delays since the treaty would have to be re-negotiated and the footnote would have to be approved once again by all 27 member states. Technically, the request for such a change would have to be made by the Czech government and the head of the European Parliament Jerzy Buzek on Friday asked the Czech prime minister to decide whether he wanted to make an official request.

Photo: European Commission
This latest development has created a huge problem not just for the EU but for the Czech Republic. Legal experts are now analyzing whether the president is overstepping his powers in this matter and doubtless more pressure will be exerted on him to sign. If he doesn’t Czech politicians could start impeachment proceedings against him or Parliament could vote him unfit for office, which would obviously create internal chaos. If, on the other hand, the prime minister does ask for the opt-out there would most likely be a long delay – Brussels would doubtless come up with a plan “B” and the Czech Republic would have damaged its reputation in the EU beyond repair.