EU leaders agree on charter exemption for Czech Republic

The Lisbon treaty is a hair’s breadth away from ratification after EU leaders on Thursday agreed on an opt-out for the Czech Republic to the treaty’s charter of fundamental rights. Czech President Václav Klaus, the document’s most vocal opponent, had made clear he would only sign if such a guarantee was provided.

Václav Klaus has long said he would be the last man to sign the Lisbon treaty and many doubted he would sign at all, but after Thursday’s meeting of EU leaders, he may do so in short order. On Thursday, despite early opposition by Hungary, EU leaders meeting in Brussels were able to thrash-out an exemption for the Czech Republic to the EU’s Charter of Fundamental Rights. The president had demanded the opt-out over apparent fears EU legislation could lead to the property rights claims by ethnic Germans expelled from Czech soil after World War II.

The guarantee formulated by the Swedish EU presidency, sources confirmed, was a general exemption such as Great Britain’s or Poland’s. Jiří Weigl, a top aide of Mr Klaus’s and a member of the Czech delegation at the EU summit, confirmed on Thursday that the president would not come forward with new demands. That means that the Czech Republic could ratify the treaty soon. Here’s what the Czech Prime Minister Jan Fischer had to say on Thursday:

Jan Fischer  (left),  Swedish PM Fredrik Reinfeldt,  photo: CTK
“I want to assure you that if the Constitutional Court finds the treaty in line with Czech law on November 3, nothing else should block its ratification in the Czech Republic.”

The Constitutional Court has already found the treaty in compliance with Czech law once, and is widely expected to do so again when it meets on Tuesday. If the court does, there will be no more hurdles to Mr Klaus adding his signature to Lisbon and making ratification complete. The treaty would then come into effect in the EU on January 1, introducing changes to the running of the 27-member union, including the new post of EU president.