Lisbon treaty will not be ratified before EU presidency, says Czech PM

Photo: European Commission

The Czech Republic will not, after all, ratify the Lisbon treaty before it takes over the rotating presidency of the European Union in just eight weeks’ time. Prime Minister Mirek Topolánek, who only a fortnight ago gave assurances that Prague would ratify the document by January 1, now says Parliament will not vote on it until next year.

Angela Merkel and Mirek Topolánek,  photo: CTK
Just two weeks ago Czech Prime Minister Mirek Topolánek assured his German counterpart Angela Merkel that Prague would ratify the EU’s Lisbon treaty by the end of this year. That is, before the first ever Czech presidency of the bloc gets underway.

On Tuesday, however, Mr Topolánek said the reform document would not now go before the Czech Parliament until next year. A major task of the Czech EU presidency will be dealing with Ireland’s rejection of Lisbon, and he admitted it would be “unpleasant” to hold negotiations with Dublin on the subject, when the Czechs themselves haven’t given the charter the green light.

Václav Klaus | Photo: Radio Prague International
The prime minister blamed the hold-up on “external factors”. For which read Czech President Václav Klaus, a fierce opponent of Lisbon. On his request, the Constitutional Court has postponed by two weeks a ruling on whether the treaty is in line with the Czech constitution. Mr Klaus says he wants to be present in person when the court announces its verdict, and the later date means there is not enough time this year for the required debate.

The Czech president will be on a long-planned official state visit to Ireland on November 10, the date the ruling was originally due. The Irish Times reported on Wednesday that the Irish government had complained to the Czech Embassy in Dublin about Mr Klaus’s plans to hold a meeting next week with an anti-Lisbon ally, Declan Ganley; he is the man who led the No campaign in Ireland earlier this year.

Photo: European Commission
Meanwhile, a new opinion poll suggests most Czechs share their president’s skepticism about Lisbon. According to the survey by STEM, 55 percent are against ratification. Then again, only 25 percent of respondents said they actually understood what changes the treaty would bring about.

When the Czech Parliament does debate ratification some time in the first three months of next year it appears that vote will be tied to one on whether to allow the building of a controversial US radar base in central Bohemia. Prime Minister Topolánek, whose government and own position are rather shaky, is hoping delivering approval for the radar will persuade his fractious and somewhat euro-sceptic Civic Democrats to raise their hands for Lisbon.

Not that the Czech leader himself has any affection for it: in an interview this week, he described the treaty as “bad”, but said having to accept it was a tolerable price for EU membership.