Open Europe Blog

Will he won’t he

Czech President Vaclav Klaus is causing a real storm over in Brussels with his refusal to sign the Lisbon Treaty. Having previously suggested that his signature would follow the outcome of the new constitutional court challenge filed by a group of Senators, now even that is not guaranteed, as he seeks some kind of ‘opt-out’ from the Charter of Fundamental Rights.

It’s clear the guy is not going to be pushed around by the likes of Barroso, Sarkozy and Merkel, who are all lining up to pressure him into signing the Treaty as soon as possible. He has already managed to delay the appointment of the new EU President and EU Foreign Minister – originally expected at the end of this month, but which will will now apparently take place at the following EU summit in December.

However, it is impossible to tell just how far Klaus is willing to go to scupper this Treaty by delaying long enough to let the Conservatives get elected in Britain and then hold the long overdue referendum.

On the one hand, according to the Times this morning, Klaus has told supporters he will “never” sign the Lisbon Treaty. And his spokesman has indicated that he will not be happy with a fudge on the Charter, wanting instead to re-open ratification in all the other EU countries in order to agree a legally-binding protocol. Anything short of this will after all be pretty meaningless – EU governments will be able to agree relatively easily to a written declaration much like the ones offered to Ireland in return for holding a second referendum on the Treaty.

Spokesman Ladislav Jakl told Czech newspaper Lidov Noviny: “the guarantees given to Ireland are not guarantees; they were a political declaration in a style such that the Irish wolf filled its stomach and the Lisbon goat remained whole”.

On the other hand, it would be naive to believe even for a minute that the other EU leaders will allow Klaus to get anywhere close to scuppering the thing they have been obsessing over non-stop for the vast majority of the past decade. As reported in the Sunday Times, France and Germany would get Klaus ousted before they considered such defeat (cue image of Klaus-shaped figure being bungled into the back of a car with blacked out windows…)

Barroso has today made crystal clear that any re-opening of the Treaty to allow for any actual or meaningful changes is absolutely and completely out of the question – “surreal”, he said. They refused to do it for Ireland, so why should the Czechs be any different? They will have to make do with a written declaration.

Whether or not this will be enough to appease President Klaus is at this moment anyone’s guess. Under immense pressure not just within the EU but also from his own government and parliament, it will take a heroic effort of historic proportions to stick to his guns on this one – and he has our full support.

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