The World from Berlin: 'Vaclav Klaus Had Become Almost Unbearable'

Czech President Vaclav Klaus indicated over the weekend that he would finally sign the European Union's Lisbon Treaty. His hesitation was the last major hurdle facing the reform agreement and German commentators say it's about time.

Czech President Vaclav Klaus has made no bones about his dislike for the Lisbon Treaty. Over the weekend, though, he said he would sign it anyway. Zoom
AP

Czech President Vaclav Klaus has made no bones about his dislike for the Lisbon Treaty. Over the weekend, though, he said he would sign it anyway.

Czech President Vaclav Klaus finally ran out of allies. For much of the year, the European Union's most famous detractor could point to Ireland as an excuse for not signing the Lisbon Treaty. But then the Irish backed the reform agreement in a referendum. At a party conference earlier this month British conservatives briefly paid lip service to that nation's Euro-skeptics, posing as David to the EU Goliath by suggesting a referendum on the subject if they got into power -- but it quickly became clear that their strategy was tenuous at best. Even Polish President Lech Kaczynski signed the Lisbon Treaty earlier in October.

Over the weekend, Klaus finally indicated that he would do the same, telling the Czech paper Lidove Noviny that the train "is already moving so fast and has gone so far that it is probably impossible to stop it or to bring it back."

He reiterated that he doesn't think the Lisbon Treaty -- which will revamp the way the 27-member club makes decisions, strengthen the EU's role on the world stage and create the position of EU president -- is good for Europe. He indicated he would sign it anyway.

Klaus is still seeking to get a footnote added to the treaty which guarantees the validity of the Benes Decrees, a set of laws which provided for the expulsion of millions of Germans and Hungarians following the end of World War II. Klaus has said he is concerned that the human rights guarantees in the Lisbon Treaty could result in lawsuits from families of expellees seeking to regain ownership of lands now in the Czech Republic.

Klaus had been asking that the Czech Republic be granted an opt-out from the Charter of Fundamental Rights, but now says he would be happy with the kind of legal guarantees granted to Ireland. The more fundamental changes Klaus had been demanding would have made a re-ratification of the treaty necessary.

Slovakia, though, has said that, should the Czechs be granted a Benes-based opt-out, then it will demand one too. "For us, the Benes Decrees are such an important part of the rule of law that we cannot allow for Slovakia to be left in any kind of legal uncertainty," said Slovak prime Minister Robert Fico on Czech television on Sunday.

Still, Klaus' back-pedalling removes the last major hurdle in the Lisbon Treaty's path. It's about time, say German commentators.

The center-left daily Süddeutsche Zeitung on Monday writes:

"Vaclav Klaus had become almost unbearable. The 17 Czech lawmakers, who challenged the Lisbon Treaty in the Czech high court, likewise grated on the nerves of their EU partners. Their true aims were often all-too-easy to recognize. They weren't really interested in protecting their constitutional rights -- rather they wanted to throw as much sand into the works of the EU ratification machine as possible."

"Just as Klaus did, they harmed their own country's image. They were unable to convince the rest of the EU that they had fundamental concerns with the Lisbon agreement. Instead, it became clear that they only really cared about the expulsion of Germans and Hungarians out of Czechoslovakia in 1945 under the provisions of the Benes Decrees. The fact that this history has once again been placed on the EU's agenda makes a new, less one-sided discussion necessary. It doesn't, however, make it any easier."

The center-right Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung writes:

"When the Irish rejected the Lisbon Treaty in the first referendum (in June 2008), most EU member states decided to continue the ratification process because they correctly assumed that Brussels would have the Irish vote over and over again until it got the result it wanted. Klaus, on the other hand, chose to see the treaty as having been rejected unless the Irish chose to change their minds. That may have been naïve given the balance of power between the large and small states in the European Union, but his view certainly wasn't contrary to the rules of the EU. The results of the second Irish referendum came on October 3. If one is to talk about Klaus' "delayed signature" on the Lisbon Treaty, then it is a delay of just three weeks."

The conservative paper Die Welt stays closer to home on Monday and argues that, given how important the EU has become for German policy, Chancellor Angela Merkel should add a Europe Minister to her cabinet.

"Germany pays €8 billion to Brussels every year -- that is almost double what France owes (€4.5 billion) and fully eight times what Great Britain pays (€1 billion). But when it comes to the struggle for influence and power, Germany often doesn't do as well as countries like France, Great Britain or Holland. A Europe Minister, resident in the chancellery, who, with the full support of Chancellor Angela Merkel, coordinates German EU policy, lays out strategy and improves German influence in Brussels, is badly needed."

"Some 70 percent of all national laws originate in Brussels. Those who want to be part of their creation must know early on what their interests are, and should not have to wait until the draft laws have already been hammered out."

"A number of countries, like France, have had Europe ministers for a long time. And they have been able to increase their influence in Brussels."

-- Charles Hawley

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