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President Václav Klaus
September 30, 2009

Klaus may be final roadblock for Lisbon

As the Irish are set to approve the treaty, Europe looks to a still-defiant president

While the eyes of Europe are on Ireland, which votes on the Lisbon Treaty Oct. 2, the glares are increasingly directed at Prague.

A group of senators from the Civic Democratic Party (ODS) filed a challenge to Lisbon Sept. 29 in the Constitutional Court in what Europe sees as the latest Czech move to derail the controversial treaty, which seeks to streamline decision-making processes at the European Union level. And, while these senators, led by Jiří Oberfalzer, are getting some attention, the man increasingly attracting both domestic and international scrutiny is President Václav Klaus.

President Václav Klaus has long opposed the Lisbon Treaty, calling the European Union the biggest threat to Czech sovereignty.

“There is the perception that it is not the Czech Republic holding it up, but [rather] the Czech president,” said Piotr Maciej Kaczyński with the Centre for European Policy Studies in Brussels.

Twenty-four of 27 member states have already ratified the Lisbon Treaty, and a Sept. 25 poll found the number of undecided Irish voters shrinking, with 48 percent supporting Lisbon and 33 percent opposed. German President Horst Köhler signed the treaty for his country Sept. 23. Polish President Lech Kaczyński has pledged to sign if the Irish vote “Yes.”

Klaus says he is holding his signature until the Constitutional Court makes a ruling on Oberfalzer’s challenge.

“Ignoring the challenge would be to release them of their rights,” Klaus wrote in a letter explaining his delay.

Oberfalzer’s challenge was filed Sept. 29, but the ODS group says it will add specifics in the coming days.

“The request is going to include passages that were not included in the last challenge,” Oberfalzer said on Czech Television Sept. 27, referring to a ruling by the Constitutional Court in November 2008 that said the treaty was within the law.

As it increasingly seems the Czech Republic will be the last to make a decision on Lisbon, some are looking for ways to pressure Klaus into signing.

“What kind of legitimacy does he have?” the analyst Kaczyński said. “He isn’t elected. He is supposed to be a figurehead. There is a lack of understanding abroad of what is going on in a democratic sense.”

Here in the Czech Republic, several legal experts have proposed means to force Klaus into signing. One recent idea went as far as putting Klaus before the International Criminal Court in The Hague. Another idea is to file a lawsuit against Klaus for inactivity based on his failure to sign a European social charter dating from four years ago, and use a ruling from this as a pretext to push Klaus to sign Lisbon. However, the Czech Constitution does not set a time limit on when a president must sign something passed by Parliament.

“There are some legal experts who have proposed the government go down such a path,” said European Affairs Minister Štefan Füle. “However, I said at the last Cabinet meeting that I saw no need for such a course at this moment.”

Others have proposed to cut the budget to the president’s office or limit Klaus’ foreign travel.

After spending recent days with Pope Benedict XVI, the pressure began mounting on Klaus from all sides. In an interview with The Washington Times Sept. 21, Klaus, playing down the recent U.S. decision to step back from a radar base in the Czech Republic, called the EU the biggest threat to Czech sovereignty.

“It is mainly the obstructive behavior of ODS leaders and its political allies over the Lisbon Treaty that threaten the national interest of the Czech Republic, including a strong and effective EU,” said Social Democratic Party (ČSSD) Chairman Jiří Paroubek.

Prime Minister Jan Fischer is pushing to ratify the Lisbon Treaty by the year’s end.

“Groundless postponement of the completion of the ratification process would have a negative impact on the position and influence of the Czech Republic in the European Union. The government has been exerting maximum effort to meet our political responsibility,” he wrote in a letter to Senate Deputy Chairwoman Alena Gajdůšková.

Further adding to the European-wide hysteria surrounding the treaty was news Sept. 23 of a letter from UK Conservative Party leader David Cameron urging Klaus to delay signing Lisbon so that, if his party is elected next year, as is widely expected, he could call a referendum in the United Kingdom next year.

“There still is not so much pressure on the Czechs, as everyone is still waiting on Ireland,” the analyst Kaczyński says. “But then it will be down to the Czech Republic.”

– Petr Cibulka Jr. and Klára Jiřičná contributed to this report.

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