Key Lisbon ruling paves way for Czech ratification to begin

Court's chairman Pavel Rychetský (middle), photo: CTK

Supporters of the EU’s Lisbon Treaty were given cause for celebration on Wednesday morning as the Constitutional Court ruled that the treaty does not violate the Czech Constitution. This landmark ruling paves the way for the Czech parliament to begin the process of ratifying the treaty. The Czech Republic is the only EU member which has not voted on Lisbon, amid a dispute over sovereignty that has pitted the government against president Václav Klaus. But Mr Klaus isn’t giving up yet.

Court's chairman Pavel Rychetský  (middle),  photo: CTK
All eyes were on the Czech Republic this week as the Constitutional Court met to deliver a crucial verdict on the future of the European Union's reform treaty. The process of ratification had been put on hold here almost as soon as it began. A group of senators from the right-wing Civic Democratic Party sent the treaty to the court, claiming the changes to the EU's decision-making would amount to a violation of the Czech constitutional order. Just after 10am on Wednesday, the Court's chairman Pavel Rychetský rose to give his verdict.

Václav Klaus,  photo: CTK
Justice Rychetský ruled that after examining the document in detail the 15 judges had agreed the proposals contained in the Lisbon Treaty were in line with the Czech constitution, before a colleague launched into a three-hour explanation of the court's findings.

The ruling was welcomed by the government, with Foreign Minister Karel Schwarzenberg describing it as good news for both the Czech Republic and the EU. But while the result may have been a blow for the treaty's opponents, president Klaus made it clear to a scrum of reporters afterwards that while Lisbon’s supporters might have won this battle, they hadn’t yet won the war.

Foreign Minister Karel Schwarzenberg,  photo: CTK
“I must point out - with great regret - that the Constitutional Court did not address my legal arguments, and especially the arguments I gave yesterday, in the explanation of their verdict. I expect that a group of MPs or senators will once again raise these arguments, but more importantly further arguments, i.e. not just those arguments that were raised originally....However I wish to repeat that I believe it’s a very good thing that this session was held in public, and that in this way a public debate has begun in the Czech Republic about the treaty. I therefore call on the government to begin a serious debate with our citizens before the treaty is sent to parliament for ratification.”

Some supporters are now calling for a special parliamentary session to ratify Lisbon as quickly as possible, but it’s highly unlikely to happen before January 1st, when the Czech Republic takes over the revolving presidency of the European Union, a rather ironic situation for a country which will be co-ordinating EU efforts to revive the treaty. And even if the Czech parliament does ratify it, it's not clear when President Klaus will sign it. Earlier this week he indicated he might wait until Ireland has held a second referendum on Lisbon Treaty before he puts the presidential seal on a document he fiercely opposes.