Uncertainty surrounds Czech place on next European Commission

Some Czech politicians have warned that due to the postponement of general elections, the Czech Republic might lose its seat on the European Commission. If a candidate is picked by the current caretaker government, they would have a weak mandate, according to the main Czech parties. But Sweden, which now heads the EU, says the current Commission should stay in place – until the future of the Lisbon treaty is clear.

The mandate of the current European Commission runs until November 23. Czech politicians say the country should have decided on a candidate for the Czech seat on the commission by then. If not, the country could end up with no commissioner at all.

However, Sweden, which currently holds the rotating presidency of the European Union, says it plans to extend the mandate of the current commission – until it is clear whether the EU’s Lisbon treaty will be ratified by all 27 member states. Marie Asenius is Sweden’s deputy minister for European Affairs.

Photo: European Commission
“The Swedish presidency wants to ensure that we get a new European Commission in place as soon as possible, and that concerns the ratification of the [Lisbon] treaty. I of course hope now that this will go forward in the countries where we do not have yet the ratification accomplished. It’s the stated political goal of all the 27 EU member states that we should have the Lisbon treaty in place before the end of the year, at the latest.”

The key factor in determining whether or not Lisbon will be implemented will be a second referendum on the treaty in Ireland, which will take place on October 2. But the Irish are not the only nation not to have ratified the treaty. Germany has to amend its law to allow ratification, while the Polish president says he won’t sign until Ireland says yes.

The Czech president, Václav Klaus, takes a similar position. What’s more, in a month’s time, a group of euro-sceptic Civic Democrat senators is going to send a petition to the Czech Constitutional Court to see if Lisbon complies with Czech law

If the treaty is not ratified, the next European Commission will be formed under the rules set down by the Nice treaty –which means that not every member state would get its own commissioner. Ms Asenius says that in such case, no one knows right now what might happen.

“This would be a very difficult nut to crack. It’s so difficult that nobody really wants to talk about it before we have to. It’s very controversial – if you have to have fewer commissioners than the number of member states. I haven’t heard any country saying they would be willing to give up their commissioners. I hope this is a situation that we can avoid. I think that it would be very good if we could have one commissioner per member state so I certainly hope the Lisbon treaty will enter into force.”

The Czech Social Democrats, who support the ratification of the treaty, believe that their Civic Democrat colleagues should drop the complaint and respect the result of the Irish vote. The head of the lower house’s foreign committee, Social Democrat Jan Hamáček, says that if the treaty is rejected, or if ratification is postponed because of the Czechs, it may jeopardize the Czech position for the negotiations about who gets a commissioner, and who doesn’t.

“I think it’s very dangerous for the Czech Republic and I would like to appeal on those senators. I think they presented their arguments in the Senate when the treaty was discussed there, and they lost. The Senate recommended the treaty to be ratified and I’d just like to appeal on them not to use this delaying tactic because that would damage our country.”

For their part, euro-sceptics among the Civic Democrats maintain that no country should be punished for rejecting the reform treaty. Civic Democrat MEP Jan Zahradil says there will be other arguments at play when discussing the reduction of the number of seats on the European Commission.

“I think it would be very unwise to try to punish any country for not ratifying the Lisbon treaty. And in any case, it there is a reduction of the number of commissioners, it would involve more than one commissioner. So it’s impossible to make only the Czech Republic the target of this reduction. I think there would be other criteria of which country would lose its commissioner than the fact whether that country ratified the Lisbon treaty or not.”

In any case, it seems that any talk of possible nominees to take over from current Czech commissioner Vladimír Špidla will be postponed until the Irish back the treaty or bury it for good.