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Prague protest Lisbon treaty
Around 150 Lisbon Treaty supporters gathered at Prague Castle Oct. 19, matched by a lesser number of Klaus supporters.
October 21, 2009

Klaus, under pressure, likely to sign Lisbon

Compromise between president and prime minister paves way for ratification by year’s end

While the public debate about the Lisbon Treaty saw protesters and counter protesters gather outside Prague Castle Oct. 19, the government of Prime Minister Jan Fischer and President Václav Klaus were crafting language designed to abate Klaus’ concerns over a human rights protocol in the treaty, likely leading to Lisbon’s ratification by the year’s end.

“The solution is now on the table,” said Petr Drulák, director of the Prague Institute for International Relations.

For his part, Klaus has stepped back from earlier demands that a concrete exemption from the Lisbon’s Charter on Fundamental Rights – meant to prevent the Czech Republic having to pay restitution to ethnic Germans expelled after World War II – be added directly to the treaty.

Instead, an addendum will be added to Croatia’s accession treaty clarifying the application of the charter to guarantee that Sudeten Germans expelled by the Beneš Decrees would not be able to seek compensation in EU courts. This is similar to the way the EU made compromises with Ireland before its public referendum Oct. 2 and prevents Lisbon from having to be re-approved by all EU member states.

“I never said it would not be enough for me to have similar guarantees to the ones the European Council gave to Ireland,” Klaus told daily Lidové noviny Oct. 17.

Less than a week earlier, however, Klaus’ private secretary was sending the opposite message on a Czech television talk show.

“The path of Ireland is totally inadequate,” Ladislav Jakl said Oct. 11. “The apparent Irish guarantees are essentially not guarantees.”

Now, Klaus sounds increasingly resigned to signing the treaty, assuming, as most do, that the Constitutional Court will rule that Lisbon falls in line with the Czech Constitution.

“The train is already moving so quickly, and it is so far away that it might not be possible to stop or return,” Klaus said.

Klaus also concretely confirmed that UK Conservative leader David Cameron had sent a letter asking him to delay signing the Lisbon Treaty until next year, when the Conservatives are expected to win elections in the United Kingdom and are hoping to call for a public vote on the controversial accord.

As to meeting Cameron’s request, “I cannot and will not,” Klaus said. “They would have to [hold a referendum] in the coming days or weeks.”

But, even as political leaders are building consensus, public opinion on the Lisbon Treaty remains divided, if not outright confused. About 150 anti-Klaus protesters gathered Oct. 19 outside Prague Castle, matched by about 50 Klaus supporters.

”The goal of the meeting is to send out a signal that most people definitely do not support the president’s approach, that they wish the treaty to be signed,” protest organizer Jan Šinágl said.

According to one public opinion poll, Šinágl is right. SANEP polling agency found that 58 percent of Czechs believe Klaus’ Lisbon approach harms the country and that he should sign immediately. However, the Median polling agency found exactly the opposite with 65 percent of Czechs saying they supported Klaus’ position on the Lisbon Treaty.

“Foreign policy issues are not something on which people vote,” Drulák said. “They don’t really know that much and have one opinion one day and another the next day.”

While the Czech Republic is the last of 27 EU member states to ratify Lisbon – which reforms EU decision making and gives it a full time president – Slovakia has added an additional twist to the process. Slovakia, as it was part of Czechoslovakia, also has the Beneš Decrees on its books.

“Everything that ought to be negotiated for the Czech Republic must be approved by everybody, including us,” said Slovak Foreign Affairs Minister Miroslav Lajčák. “We’re not going to approve or vote for something that would put us into a disadvantageous or subordinated situation.”

This at least raises the possibility that Slovak leaders with similar concerns to Klaus could end up blocking any compromise solution between Klaus and Fischer.

“We cannot allow any legal uncertainty,” Slovak Prime Minister Robert Fico said.

But Fischer says Slovak opinion will be taken into account in formulating language for any exemption.

“The formulation is going to be such that [Fico] would not have to take this step,” Fischer said at an Oct. 19 press conference.

After weeks of tension and harsh rhetoric, EU leaders are beginning to rest easy and are likely to see the results of internal Czech negotiations at a summit Oct. 29-30.

And, while he may reluctantly sign Lisbon, Klaus remains unapologetic about his stance.

“Disputes about freedom and democracy in Europe will certainly continue. They must continue,” he said.

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

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