Eurosceptic Czech president now seen as last big hurdle on the road to Lisbon treaty ratification

Václav Klaus

With Ireland expected to approve the Lisbon treaty in a repeat referendum next week, eurosceptics in the EU are now pinning their hopes on Czech President Vaclav Klaus, who is fiercely opposed to Lisbon. On Wednesday the Daily Mail reported that the leader of Britain’s Conservatives David Cameron had sent President Klaus a letter assuring him that if he holds up the treaty’s ratification until May of next year – when the Tories expect to come to power – then Mr. Cameron will hold a referendum on the treaty in a last-ditch attempt to scupper it. But since the Czech Parliament has already approved the treaty can the president hold out against it for much longer?

The fiercely eurosceptic Czech president is now at the centre of attention and his anti-EU rhetoric grows stronger by the day. On Tuesday he told the Washington Times he feared a federalist Europe more than he did Russia. And he has not been sitting idle: he is believed to be behind a move by a group of right-wing senators to file a second complaint over the treaty at the Czech Constitutional Court. According to the court’s spokesman, a full treaty review – which is what the senators have said they would ask for this time – could take from four to nine months.

For his part, the president has made it clear he will not sign the document until the court has ruled on it. Constitutional experts say he is fully entitled to do that; what he cannot do is to continue to hold out against the treaty if the court rules it is not in violation of Czech law.

Given that the document has been approved by both houses of Parliament, if the Constitutional Court rules there are no legal obstacles to it, then the president will be obliged to sign it. There is just one hitch – the law does not set a time-limit by when he must do so.

However after that point – in view of the possible repercussions for the country – his critics could start impeachment proceedings against him on the grounds of treason. Or Mr. Klaus could resign of his own accord after refusing to sign the treaty. Whether he is prepared to leave office in this manner over an issue he clearly feels strongly about is anyone’s guess. The president himself is not worried. He told newsmen late on Tuesday that he is convinced the Irish will once again reject the treaty in next Friday’s referendum; therefore, he said, the completion of its ratification by the Czech Republic is not something he is overly concerned about.