Sarkozy fails to move indifferent Czechs in bid to keep Lisbon alive

Nicolas Sarkozy, photo: CTK

The French president Nicolas Sarkozy came to Prague on Monday, a trip that had been planned long in advance but happened to fall on the first working day after the people of Ireland voted ‘No’ to the EU’s Lisbon Treaty. The Czech Republic is one of eight countries that still haven’t ratified the treaty, and the country is seen by many as the biggest obstacle in the path of reviving the ill-fated EU reform project.

Nicolas Sarkozy, photo: CTK
President Sarkozy came to Prague looking for an assurance the Czech Republic would not pull the plug on the Lisbon Treaty, currently lying on an EU life-support machine after being dealt what looks like a killer blow by the Irish people. Czech officials had expressed consternation that Mr Sarkozy would try to browbeat the Czechs into speeding up the ratification process. But that strategy, if it was ever on the cards, seemed to have been left at the airport in Paris.

No it was all charm in the garden of Prague’s Kramář Villa, the official residence of the Czech prime minister, as President Sarkozy addressed reporters following talks with Prime Minister Mirek Topolánek. “Europe needs Central Europe”, said Mr Sarkozy – “its growth, its youth, its dynamism, its hope.”

Asked about what happens to Europe now the Irish have said ‘No’ to Lisbon, the French president said it was a not an easy situation and one that demanded calm and sangfroid. Mr Sarkozy warned against dramatising the situation, but neither should Europeans underestimate it either, adding there was a real crisis ahead if Europe became paralysed by institutional navel gazing.

He said however that he fully understood the Czechs needed time. And Prague is certainly taking its time. Mirek Topolánek, Czech prime minister:

Nicolas Sarkozy and Mirek Topolánek, photo: CTK
"Here in the Czech Republic it's not a question of whether we want to say ‘Yes’ or ‘No’. Here it's a discussion about whether the Irish ‘No’ makes it possible or legitimate to continue with ratification. Fortunately, we don't even have to resolve this problem because the ratification process in the Czech Republic is suspended anyway, while our Constitutional Court examines the Lisbon Treaty."

The treaty was sent to the Constitutional Court in the first place by senators from Mr Topolánek’s Civic Democratic Party, a move that critics say was deliberately meant to delay ratification as long as possible. The chairman of the Senate - which must approve Lisbon – says the treaty is now dead, and ratification cannot continue. President Klaus has gone further, saying Europe should thank the people of Ireland for stopping the treaty in its tracks.

Europe’s pro-Lisbon politicians are desperately looking for a silver lining among the blackening rain clouds hanging over the continent. It’s unlikely they’ll find one here in Prague.