Still some way to go for the Lisbon Treaty
BERLIN -- The sighs of relief that were audible across Europe after the Irish voted "yes" in a referendum on the Lisbon Treaty on Friday may well turn out to be premature. Certainly the overwhelming vote removed the most-hyped obstacle to the Treaty. But that still leaves Poland and the Czech Republic. In Poland the next bump in the road has turned out to be just a wobble. For a while, it had seemed certain that President Lech Kaczynski would swiftly sign in the wake of an Irish yes. Then "insiders" began suggesting that a few concessions might be in order as a reward for signing, such as oversight rights for the Polish parliament, additional EU funds for Poland, or a weighty portfolio in the new EU Commission. But the fact that an overwhelming majority of Poles supports the Lisbon Treaty appears to have won the day -- on Thursday, the President's speaker announced that the Treaty would be signed on Saturday.
Meanwhile, in the Czech Republic, President Klaus has been finding ever new reasons to delay his signature, the only missing step in the ratification process after both houses of the Czech parliament approved the treaty. His case was strengthened recently when a group of conservative legislators launched yet another appeal to the constitutional court. Chances are that judges will reject the appeal, as they have done with several others before, but the court review and decision will mean a further delay. In a phone conversation on Thursday with Swedish Premier Fredrik Reinfeldt, Klaus dropped another bombshell: he wants a "footnote" attached to the Treaty regarding the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights, which will become binding for all 27 EU member States once the Lisbon Treaty enters into force -- presumably, one that exempts the Czech Republic from its rules. Reinfeldt -- in classic Nordic stiff-upper-lip mode -- reported that he told Klaus that this was the "wrong message" to send. The Polish daily Rzeczpospolita reports, drawing on a "source close to President Klaus", that the Czech President wants a guarantee to be added to the Charter that prevents Sudeten Germans (ethnic Germans who fled the Czech lands after World War II) from claiming compensation or property from the Czech Republic. "We cannot allow some judge from Malta or Spain, who does not know the history of our region and sit on the European Court of Justice, to decide about the rights of Germans to re-claim their property," Rzeczpospolita cites its source in Prague. At the same time, public pressure is mounting in the Czech Republic to spare the country another embarrassment on the EU stage after its disastrous presidency earlier this year.
Supporters of swift ratification can rely on strong public backing as, according to a recent poll, 53 percent of Czechs would vote yes in a referendum on the treaty. Not surprisingly, legal experts are even discussing ways how the stubborn president could be forced to sign. In both countries, skeptics and opponents of Lisbon seem to acknowledge that they are fighting a lost cause. In Prague, even Klaus admitted after the Irish referendum that it may be too late to stop the treaty. With both the Czech Republic and Poland, the EU should be forthcoming and encouraging, so that the treaty can enter into force in 2010 as planned. Otherwise, Lisbon might still fail on the finish line. The U.K. elections next year will likely see a Tory victory, in which case the new government might call a retroactive referendum to annul the Labour-led ratification. If the treaty has not entered into force by then, it may well collapse. That could bring consequences for Europe, both at home and abroad, that no one even dares imagine.
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