President Klaus delays putting signature to Lisbon ratification

The upper house of the Czech parliament has voted to ratify the EU’s Lisbon treaty, finalizing the parliamentary ratification of the document. But one major obstacle remains on the road to the full Czech approval of the treaty. The Czech president, Václav Klaus, is in no hurry to put his signature to what he sees serious threat of Czech sovereignty.

Václav Klaus, photo: CTK
It took the Czech president, Václav Klaus, just over an hour to appear live on TV with his response to the Senate’s approval of the Lisbon treaty on Wednesday. “It’s a sad proof of another failure of a significant part of our political elites,” said Mr Klaus, comparing the vote to some of the darkest moments in Czech history. President Klaus accused the Senators of giving in to the “unparalleled” media and political pressure both from home and abroad, and losing their political and civic integrity.

In the key vote on Wednesday, 54 Senators in the 81-seat upper chamber of the Czech Parliament voted to approve the document that will reshape the European Union. The chairman of the Senate, Civic Democrat Přemysl Sobotka, says the vote took place after months of deliberation.

“Our Senate was discussing the treaty for a year and three or four moths, and the result is very good. We needed 48 votes, and we had 54. It’s a good number, and the Senate expressed a strong position.”

The Czech deputy prime minister for European affairs, Alexandr Vondra, sees the outcome of the vote as personally rewarding, saying the outgoing government had invested a lot of effort in the ratification of the treaty. Mr Vondra also believes that President Klaus, a sworn enemy of the Lisbon treaty, will have to respect the reality.

“I think that at the end of the day, everybody has to handle this responsibly and with realism on mind. And I think that we had a strong statement by the lower house few months ago, and now by the Senate, so I think we should respect this as the reality.”

With the Lisbon treaty approved by both chambers of the Czech parliament, however, the ball is now in the president’s court. Without his signature, ratification will not be complete. But the constitution sets no time limits for the head of state to sign it, and the president is in no hurry to seal what he sees as a threat for the Czech Republic.

“As far as further development is concerned: I will now wait to see if a group of Senators, as some of them have suggested, asks the Constitutional Court for a further review of the Lisbon treaty in relation to our constitution. If this happens, I will not consider my decision to ratify or not to ratify the treaty until the court produces a verdict.”

Last year, the Senate asked the Constitutional Court to examine whether seven articles of the Lisbon treaty were in line with Czech law. It took the judges five months to come up with the verdict – the articles in question do not contradict the constitution. Alexandr Vondra is confident that if the court is petitioned again, the result will be the same.

“Simply if there is this groups of 17 [Senators], and I don’t know if there will be, but if there is, we don’t have any instruments to prevent it. But I would say that this is not a serious complication because I know the verdict of the Constitutional Court from last time. It was a qualified, deep down statement and I would not expect anything else if the court is asked again. I think that the Czechs – and that’s my personal conviction – will certainly finish the process this year.”

President Václav Klaus also repeated his view that for the time being, the treaty is dead because it was rejected by the Irish in last year’s referendum. It would make no sense, said Mr Klaus, to even start thinking whether he should sign the treaty or not. But political analyst Jiří Pehe says the president will not be able to ignore the decision of the Czech Parliament.

Photo: CTK
“I think this is just a delaying tactics. If Ireland approves the treaty and the Czech Constitutional Court again rules that the treaty does not contradict the constitution, it would be very difficult for Mr Klaus to maintain that he cannot sign the treaty because of his personal opinion. In fact, a lot of people would probably argue that this is not constitutional and I would expect political parties in Parliament to move against Mr Klaus under these circumstances.”

Meanwhile, politicians in the Czech Republic and abroad have called on Václav Klaus to sign the treaty without delay. Social Democrat leader Jiří Paroubek said the president’s personal struggle was over. The head of the Liberal Democrats in the European Parliament suggested Mr Klaus signs the document with his own blood, and in time for June’s EU summit. The Czech president will now have to decide whether he will give in to the pressure, or start a far-reaching conflict with the Czech Parliament and the whole of the European Union.