After years of infighting between its national member states, sweeping EU reforms threaten to overwhelm sceptics. Negotiations between the European Union and the Czech Republic on are being called the "final hurdle" for the Lisbon Treaty in the international media.
Lisbon Treaty verges on ratification
Negotiations between the European Union and the Czech Republic on Wednesday were being called the "final hurdle" for the Lisbon Treaty in the international media. The Czech president Vaclav Klaus has become central to the treaty being ratified as his country is seen as the last hurdle in the 27-nation deal - and Mr Klaus has defined his presidency in terms of his criticism of climate change theories and euroscepticism. Poland also has yet to sign the treaty, but the president's office has signaled that it is preparing to do so. Since Ireland voted to approve the treaty last week - after rejecting it last year - there has been a gathering momentum that is now bearing down on Mr Klaus. Last week in The National, Alan Philps analysed the prospects of the Irish vote and how provincial politics has so often held sway over the grand ambitions of the EU political project.
The Lisbon Treaty is the successor of the more ambitious EU constitution, which was effectively killed by resounding "no" results in Dutch and French referendums in 2005. If it is ratified and goes into effect next year - still a big "if" despite its penultimate position - wide-ranging consequences for the political structure of the European Parliament, its influence over the decisions of its member states and the central authority of the union as a whole. In an opinion article in The Wall Street Journal, the Cato Institute analyst Marian L Tupy writes that not only will Mr Klaus reject the treaty, but that the British opposition Conservative party will renew the debate if it takes power in 2010. The treaty abrogates the rights of Europeans, Tupy argues, revealing the EU's "ugly face" of bullying: The Irish may have said Yes to the Lisbon Treaty, but the bureaucrats in Brussels have not yet won. If anything, perceivedl browbeating of the Irish electorate into reversing its previous rejection of the treaty will steel the resolve of those who oppose additional centralisation of power in Brussels. The Czech president Vaclav Klaus has so far refused to sign off on the treaty that the Czech parliament has already adopted. The president is officially waiting for a decision from the highest Czech court on the treaty's constitutionality. The opponents of that treaty in the Czech parliament hope to prolong the legal challenges until the British have had a chance to vote it down in a referendum that the Conservatives have promised to hold in 2010 if they win the next election. European Union politicians like to lecture foreigners on the importance of democracy. Yet, the EU itself has entered a post-democratic age. Increasingly, it is run by unelected and unaccountable technocrats in Brussels who are disdainful of public opinion. In 2005, when French and Dutch voters defeated the proposed EU Constitution?which would have massively expanded the power of Brussels?the Eurocrats repackaged the Constitution as the Lisbon Treaty, which supposedly required no plebiscites.
The Irish constitution required a referendum, however, and the Irish rejected the Lisbon Treaty in June 2008. Seven years earlier, the Irish similarly rejected the Treaty of Nice, which also enhanced the power of Brussels. Back then, the Irish were made to vote again and, after months of taxpayer-funded government propaganda, they gave the answer Brussels wanted. But, Lisbon may still be derailed by President Klaus and his allies. Enjoying approval ratings of around 70 per cent, Mr Klaus knows that the Czech citizens don't care that much for the Lisbon Treaty. Mr Klaus understands that his obstinacy may erode his popularity, but cannot destroy it. After all, if he can hold out until the middle of 2010, it will be the British who will take the blame for killing the Lisbon Treaty.
Mr. Klaus also knows that after four decades of rule from Moscow, many Czechs remain opposed to being ruled from Brussels. Lastly, Mr. Klaus knows that the EU subsidies that Brussels periodically uses to extract political concessions from Europe's poorer and smaller countries have no effect on economic growth. Whether the Czechs receive net financial transfers from Brussels or do not, their economy will grow in accordance with the health of the global economy and Czech business environment, which is mostly a result of Czech legislation. If all else fails, the pro-Treaty members of the Czech parliament may even try to impeach Mr. Klaus, according to the Czech press. It is highly unlikely, however, that they would get the required majority for such a dramatic move. Moreover, the Czech constitution states that the president can only be impeached if he commits high treason against Czech independence, territorial integrity and democratic order. Yet those are precisely the values that Mr. Klaus's opposition to the Lisbon Treaty aims to protect.
The Irish Times considered the details of horsetrading on provisions of the treaty and suggested that Irish approval may have saved the EU: "The potential significance for Europe of Ireland's Yes vote in the Lisbon Treaty referendum may not yet be fully understood by all. It is truly monumental. If the Lisbon Treaty now comes into force, the Irish electorate's rethink will have rescued the viability of European unity, in all probability for a generation. "If the No side had prevailed in the referendum, the EU would have suffered a massive, morale-sapping blow. Not just the Lisbon Treaty itself would have been killed off. So too would any prospect of reforming the EU for years, given the likely imminent arrival in power in Britain of David Cameron's Conservative party - set to be the first election victory of a Eurosceptic-led Eurosceptical party. "With a Conservative-ruled UK then vetoing every subsequent attempt to improve the EU, it is far from improbable that Europe would have ultimately divided between states advocating further integration and opposing it: a truly disastrous eventuality for the continent. "The Lisbon Treaty is not quite a done deal yet, however. Two other states have not yet ratified: Poland and the Czech Republic. In both cases, their parliaments have voted approval, but their Eurosceptical presidents have withheld their signature. "Poland's president Lech Kaczynski, however, promised last July to consent to ratification if Ireland voted Yes - and sources close to him now indicate he will fulfil this promise soon. But can Czech president and veteran Eurosceptic Václav Klaus now somehow prevent the treaty from entering into force? "Klaus would clearly like to do this. This could be done by delaying his signature, and thus preventing Lisbon entering into force until a UK election was held, probably next spring, at the latest next June. "The newly elected Conservatives would then kill off the treaty by first withdrawing British ratification, then holding a referendum on Lisbon in which they would recommend a No vote. David Cameron wrote ostentatiously to Klaus in July, confirming his party's willingness to play its part in this scenario. "Klaus has declared himself "in no hurry" to assent to the treaty. Last Tuesday, in what was widely perceived as a move to facilitate his dilatoriness, 17 of his Civic Democratic party allies in the Czech senate petitioned the Czech constitutional court to consider the constitutionality of the Lisbon Treaty for a second time - allowing Klaus to declare somewhat disingenuously 'my signature is not the order of the day. I will wait for the constitutional court's verdict'. "Such delaying tactics can work only for so long, however. Although it took seven months for an earlier complaint against the treaty to be rejected by the Czech constitutional court - a delay which might prove fatal to the treaty now if repeated - Czech chief justice Rychetský has indicated that the court will work swiftly on this new complaint. "Given the stakes, the pressure on Klaus now will be of a wholly different magnitude. There will certainly be international pressure - and the Czech Republic has no greater an interest in isolating itself internationally than Ireland. France's president Nicolas Sarkozy, for example, has pressed for an emergency summit meeting of European leaders. "However, ?tefan Füle, the Czech European affairs minister, has wisely warned direct pressure on Klaus could be counterproductive: Klaus noticeably did not make himself contactable by the Swedish EU presidency on Saturday. "National-level pressure will also exist. Opposition Social Democrats - likely to come to power in elections at the weekend - have 'intensively' debated the possible temporary removal of Klaus's functions in favour of the prime minister under Article 66 of the Czech constitution, and the idea has also been aired at cabinet level. "There is also the democratic - and possibly constitutional - unacceptability of the president of a parliamentary democracy frustrating the will of the majority of parliament's members." A satirical piece by Hugo Rifkind in The Times of London accepts the treaty as a (lamentable) fait accompli. The article considers candidates for the position of the president of Europe, which would be created by the treaty, and laments that the former UK prime minister Tony Blair appears to be the frontrunner: "The President of Europe will be a new job, created by the Lisbon treaty. Although, because everything in Europe has to be confusing to the point of madness, possibly by law, there sort of already is one. "You see, the President of Europe will, essentially, be the President of the European Council. The European Council is made up of the heads of the various member states of the EU, and the president rotates on a six-monthly basis, between those heads. Right now it's a Swede. The Lisbon treaty will change this, so that the president is chosen by those heads every two-and-a-half years. Why? Don't ask me. Wrong section. "Essentially, Europe is split in all directions on what sort of person this ought to be. Some want a grey little technocrat, some people want somebody flashy and noisy. And, even people who want the same thing, don't always have the same reasons. "There are hard-core federalists who want an invisible president so that things can quietly get done, but there are also Eurosceptics who want one, in the hope that people forget about the presidency altogether and it goes away. Other Eurosceptics want a high-profile president to expose the inner workings of something that often seems quite shady, but there are also passionate Europhiles who want one so that the people of Europe might demand a direct vote, thus sending the EU further in the direction of the US. "Right now, there are no official candidates, but many unofficial ones. Including: Tony Blair "Who? Um, duh. He was that British Prime Minister, wasn't he? Before that squinty bloke. He's been on the hunt for a big job ever since and he already has the sort of tan you normally only get by being very rich and living in Monaco. "What does he look like, again? Portrait of Tony Blair, made out of a raisin. "Who wants him? Actively, only Nicolas Sarkozy and Silvio Berlusconi. Other than that, he is equally disliked by almost everybody. This actually puts him in a very strong position. "Why? The role of president, they say, will be shaped by the first incumbent. President Blair would make it high-profile and internationally relevant. Even the Americans would probably notice. "Why not? See above. The higher profile a European President has, the more blatant and shameless the glaring anti-democratic nature of the institution becomes. Also, that whole Iraq thing." *The National