Hope for Lisbon EU Treaty Approved by Czech Republic

The upper house of the Czech Senate has approved the European Union's Lisbon Treaty. But it must still be signed by President Vaclav Klaus, a man who has fought against the treaty for years.

By Lucie Kavanova and

The tension was written all over the face of Deputy Prime Minister Alexandr Vondra. His country's reputation was on the line. Would the Czech Senate wave through the European Union's Treaty of Lisbon, or would the 81 members of the upper legislative chamber of a country of 10 million people kill the reform treaty? Would the country finally usurp Poland's title as the biggest troublemaker in the East, or would it cooperate, after all?

Could Czech President Vaclav Klaus still scupper the treaty?

Could Czech President Vaclav Klaus still scupper the treaty?

"We don't want to be Europe's periphery. Vote YES on Lisbon," the banners young EU supporters had unfurled in the Senate's visitor gallery read. Vondra and the visitors in the gallery spent seven hours on pins and needles as the upper chamber deliberated its decision.

Paradoxically, Vondra spent most of that time worrying about uncertain prospects from the ranks of his own party, the center-right Civic Democrat Party (ODS). The ODS was founded by current President Vaclav Klaus and taken in a direction sharply critical of the EU. For Klaus and many ODS members, the Brussels-based EU epitomizes the bureaucracy and frenzy of regulation that is stifling the freedom of Czech business owners.

To address these concerns, Vondra had apparently been on the phone for days and waylaid his colleagues in the hallways of the senate building. Back in February, hoping to forge a majority for their cause in the lower legistlative chamber, he and Prime Minister Mirek Topolanek spent weeks discussing, cajoling, developing strategies and maneuvering.

Vondra's efforts paid off in February, as they did in the current vote. "This is an important moment for the Czech Republic, as well as being gratifying for the government," a visibly relieved Vondra said after 54 of 79 senators present voted in favor of the reform treaty.

Prime Minister Topolanek and Deputy Prime Minister Vondra have faced an uphill battle on the Lisbon vote, especially now that they are no longer in power. Five weeks ago, the government collapsed after losing a no-confidence vote in the lower house of the Czech parliament, the Chamber of Deputies. The Czech Republic was suddenly without a government, even though it continues to hold the rotating EU presidency until June 30.

The no-confidence vote could even be a blessing in disguise for Topolanek and Vondra, because many Czechs view President Klaus as the person mainly responsible for bringing down the government. According to the popular perception, Klaus used skillful intrigues to topple Topolanek's ODS government. Topolanek and Vondra had long been too EU-friendly for his taste.

Experts on Czech politics speculate that this sort of interference may have irked a few ODS senators, prompting them to vote in favor of Lisbon on Wednesday -- out of pure revenge.

The ties between the Civil Democratic Party and its founder were severed long ago, as the ODS, led by Topolanek and Vondra, gradually pivoted in more of a pro-EU direction. In doing so, it was merely reflecting a shift in its voters' attitudes that has been happening for a long time. The Czechs' attitudes about the EU have steadily improved, especially among ODS voters. This is borne out by surveys, the results of which a few ODS senators undoubtedly read before voting for Lisbon on Wednesday. Senators in the Czech Republic take the views of their constituents seriously, because they are voted into office through direct elections in their districts, unlike the members of the Chamber of Deputies, who attain their positions as part of lists.

Klaus's views and those of his party had become so divergent that he even resigned as ODS chairman at the beginning of the year. He and his supporters are in the process of establishing a new party, which has agitated against Lisbon until now. This makes it all the more worrisome that the draft legislation approving the treaty requires Klaus's signature before it can be ratified.

Will he submit to the will of the representatives of the people in the Chamber of Deputies and the Senate? Klaus is not exactly a man who allows himself to be pressured. For example, he sees climate change as a fantasy of environmentalists, even though the overwhelming majority of climate scientists disagree completely.

Commenting on the Prague senate's Yes vote on the Lisbon Treaty, Klaus said on Wednesday that he was "disappointed." The treaty, he said, is "contrary to the interests of the Czech Republic."


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