President Klaus holds key to Lisbon treaty ratification

Václav Klaus, photo: CTK

The eyes of Europe are on Czech President Václav Klaus – a fierce Eurosceptic who now holds the key to the ratification of the Lisbon treaty. After the Irish “yes” to Lisbon on Friday, the Czech Republic and Poland are the only remaining EU countries not to have ratified the EU’s reform document. The Polish head of state is expected to sign it in a matter of days, but Mr Klaus has shown no intention of breathing life into the document he’s so vigorously opposed to. On Saturday, a group of Euro-sceptics marched to his seat at Prague Castle with a clear message – don’t give up the fight.

Photo: CTK
Some two hundred Euro-sceptics, conservative Catholics, libertarians, nationalists and the odd skinhead assembled outside the Irish embassy in Prague’s Malá Strana on Saturday. Waving signs that said “No to Lisbon”, “EU – Danger” and EU flags with a hammer and sickle, they made their way up to Prague Castle, the seat of Czech President Václav Klaus, who famously refused to fly an EU flag there. Mr Klaus came out to address his supporters, telling them he shared their views on the Lisbon treaty. ‘I’m reading all these signs here’, remarked Mr Klaus, ‘and I understand them. Those are my sentiments too, although as president, I have to use somewhat weaker words’. The Czech president has adamantly refused to ratify Lisbon even thought it was approved by both chambers of Parliament. Now he is bound by law to await a verdict by the country’s Constitutional Court that is reviewing the treaty at the request of a group of right-wing senators. The court is expected to reach a verdict within some six weeks or so, but many would like Václav Klaus to withhold ratification for much longer – at least until after the spring elections in the UK. Catholic commentator Michal Semín was one of the event’s organizers.

“We are here to tell him that we will support him if he remains firm and will wait for the elections in Great Britain in case the Tories win and a referendum is held. Our position is to support President Klaus to maintain the position he’s had so far.”

Václav Klaus,  photo: CTK
As head of the British Conservatives, David Cameron has promised that if his party wins the election and the treaty is not ratified at the time the Tories would hold a referendum on it. But when asked directly what message he had for the British people, Václav Klaus appeared resigned.

“I’m afraid the people of Britain should have been doing something much earlier, rather now, when it’s too late, just to wait for my decision. That’s my clear message to all of them”.

So it’s too late?

“Yes, too late.”

The majority of Czech politicians welcomed the result of the second Irish referendum. Civic Democrat leader Mirek Topolánek told Czech TV on Sunday that the president should ratify the treaty.

“The treaty was ratified by both chambers of Parliament. Although I’m not a lawyer, the way I understand it is that since we don’t have a presidential system in the Czech Republic, the president’s signature is a mere formality. However, I understand that others might see it differently, and argue that the president does not have to sign the treaty. That would get us in a very difficult position.”

For his part, the head of the Social Democrats, Jiří Paroubek, hopes the Constitutional Court will rule quickly.

Jiří Paroubek,  photo: CTK
“I think that the Constitutional Court should decide quickly, and I think that Civic Democrat senators should stop obstructing the ratification. The whole of Europe is watching the Czech Republic now, and expects us to complete ratification of the Lisbon treaty.”

Until the court’s ruling, President Klaus’s hands are tied. The real war of nerves will begin if the judges find that the Lisbon treaty is in line with Czech law. But if President Klaus wants to keep the whole of EU waiting for his signature, he’ll need much more backing than he got at Prague Castle on Saturday.