EU will continue Lisbon Treaty ratification process with concessions to Czechs

Alexandr Vonra, Mirek Topolánek, Karel Schwarzenberg, photo: CTK

Leaders of EU countries agreed in Brussels on Friday that the Lisbon Treaty ratification process will continue in the remaining seven countries, regardless of last week’s no vote by the Irish. They also made a concession to the Czech Republic where the process is pending on a verdict of the country’s constitutional court.

Alexandr Vonra, Mirek Topolánek, Karel Schwarzenberg, photo: CTK
All eyes are set on the Czech Republic to see whether the country will keep step with the 25 EU countries pushing for further ratification of the Lisbon Treaty or will torpedo the reform project for good.

Friday’s decision by EU leaders to continue with the ratification process while acknowledging the Czech difficulties comes as a welcome relief for Czech Prime Minister Mirek Toplánek. He has been pressured from two sides – by EU leaders who push for further ratification of the reform document on one hand, and by eurosceptics in his own party on the other.

After the first round of talks in Brussels, which concluded in the early hours of Friday, Prime Minister Topolánek told journalists that his government had no intention of sinking the reform project. But he also said that he would not bet 100 crowns on an approval of the treaty by the Czech parliament. This illustrates the between-rock-and-a-hard-place position the Czech prime minister has to resolve to avoid being remembered either as the man who buried the Lisbon Treaty, or the man whose government fell because of it.

Photo: CTK
Only hours after the results of the Irish referendum were announced, the avidly eurosceptic President Václav Klaus declared the Lisbon Treaty dead. The government was less dismissive of the treaty’s prospects but Mr. Klaus has much influence within the Civic Democrats, the biggest party in the governing coalition.

Perhaps to avoid conflict between the moderate and eurosceptic wings of the party, Civic Democrat senators are having the Czech Constitutional Court review whether the document is in line with the Czech law. The court is expected to reach a verdict after the summer and the judges will now do their best to come up with an answer before mid-October, when EU leaders will discuss ratification again.

If the verdict is negative, the Czech Republic will not be ratifying the reform treaty any time soon and the Lisbon Treaty could well become a major topic of an early general election.

If the Constitutional Court says the document does not contradict the country’s constitution, the Czech government will have to brace itself for a crucial vote – under the watchful eye of the rest of Europe.