Saturday, October 17, 2009

Ratification of the EU Lisbon Treaty in the Czech Republic: Latest maneuver from President Klaus

Ireland became this week the 26th nation to ratify the Lisbon Treaty, leaving the Czech Republic as the only one of the 27 EU countries that has not yet done.

As mentioned in previous posts, the Czech President, a notorious anti-EU and erratic politician, has been doing his best to delay national ratification of the Treaty of Lisbon. His behavior is particularly appalling, if not illegal, considering that the Treaty has been approved by both chambers of the Czech Parliament and held compatible with the Czech Constitution by the Constitutional Court (another ludicrous and late constitutional complaint arguing that the Treaty creates a European “superstate” should be dealt with by the Court before the end of this year).

The President’s signature being formally required to complete the Lisbon ratification process in his country, Mr. Klaus recently came up with another procrastination tactic: He demanded an “opt-out” from the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights. His main (and completely unfounded) fear is that the EU Charter, which will become legally binding once the Lisbon Treaty enters into force, could allow some German citizens to institute restitution claims on property confiscated from them in 1945 directly before the EU Court of Justice.

The main legal problem is that President Klaus wishes to see this “opt-out” enshrined in a new protocol to be annexed to the Lisbon Treaty. This is problematic because protocols, which have the same status as EU treaties, must be subject to national ratifications. Notwithstanding the fact that the Czech President does not even possess the legal power under the Czech Constitution to issue such a demand, other EU leaders have clearly and rightly refused to accommodate a demand of this nature almost two years after the Lisbon Treaty was signed.

Unsurprisingly, it has been today suggested that Mr. Klaus is now open to the idea of securing a “political declaration" instead of an opt-out. EU leaders are likely to give in to this demand. Declarations, which may be used to clarify the interpretation to be given to a treaty provision, do not indeed require national ratification. Regardless of what is going to be negotiated, this latest episode shows that it is more than time to scrap the unanimity rule when it comes to ratifying new EU treaties. As I wrote on many occasions, in a Union of 27 countries, such rule allows any nation (or any eccentric Head of state), for any reason, to hold up all the others on such a crucial issue of the EU institutional reform.


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