Respekt’s Jan Macháček: ratification delay has hurt the Czech Republic

Jan Macháček

The president’s unexpected last-minute demand and the delays surrounding the Lisbon treaty’s ratification in the Czech Republic have not gone down well in Brussels and where many now see the Czech Republic as a troublemaker. Will Tuesday’s verdict finally send out the right signal? A question for Jan Macháček, commentator for the weekly Respekt.

“I think it’s very good news obviously and puts the people who oppose the Lisbon treaty on constitutional grounds in isolation and sends a clear signal that the Czech state and society, with very few exceptions, supports the treaty, so it is an important signal to the world, definitely.”

Some describe the opt-out granted by the European Union to the Czech Republic as a victory for Mr. Klaus while others see it as a victory for the EU in that it has shown itself as being fast and flexible in meeting the Czech President’s last minute demand. How do you see it?

Václav Klaus,  photo: CTK
“I don’t see it as a victory of President Klaus, but I also don’t see it as a clear victory for the Czech society. Let me explain. If President Klaus signs the treaty now, it is clear that for Czechs the Lisbon treaty is approved including the Charter of Fundamental Rights, because that’s the way the Czech Parliament approved the treaty, including the Charter of Fundamental Rights.

“So before an accession treaty with possibly Croatia and Iceland is signed, and that can be a matter of years, maybe three years, we will be adhering to the Lisbon treaty as it was approved by the Czech Parliament. And the opt-out is going to be a matter of dispute. To me it seems clear that if Czechs want this opt-out from the Charter of Fundamental Rights, they will have to vote again, because it would entail a change to the constitution. So you would need a constitutional majority to exclude the Charter of Fundamental rights from the treaty because we are not living in a presidential dictatorship or in a presidential system, so the president cannot exclude Parliament from this decision.

“The president asked the government to negotiate the exemption or opt-out from the Charter of Fundamental Rights, but there is no way that the president could decide these things without an approval of Parliament.”

The Czech Republic’s reputation in the European Union has taken a severe beating in the last month. Do you think that the speedy ratification of the treaty could make up for it?

“No, I don’t think so, I think that the position of the Czech Republic has really been severely damaged. It has torpedoed the achievements and goals of the Swedish presidency, and it has torpedoed the goal of European Union, for instance in October, to have a foreign minister and president of the EU. European leaders wasted a lot of time dealing with this problem - instead of dealing with the consequences of the financial crisis and new challenges of the global world after the financial crisis everyone had to get involved in dealing with the very unreadable and strange position of this country.

“And we can also see that the Czech Republic is not even able to define its national or state interest, it still doesn’t have a clear candidate for the position of European commissioner, it doesn’t know which portfolio is the preference of this country, so I think its position has been very badly damaged recently.”