09/30/2009 01:21 PM

Slamming the Brakes on Lisbon

Czech Senators Send Treaty Back to Court

Backers of the Lisbon Treaty were hoping that a "yes" in Friday's Irish referendum would be the final leverage needed to get Polish and Czech leaders to sign the much-stalled treaty. But now a group of Czech senators are sending the treaty back to the country's Constitutional Court -- for the second time. The move could mean several more months of delays.

Just three days before the Irish go back to the polls to vote on the Treaty of Lisbon, there's been another hiccup in the troubled treaty's process of ratification. On Tuesday, in a move that threatens to push it back several months, 17 Czech senators submitted a complaint to the country's Constitutional Court calling on it to determine whether it violates the country's constitution.

The treaty, which is meant to bring widespread reforms to the EU and streamline decision-making, requires the signature of all 27 member states in order to go into effect. After having been rejected by the Irish in June 2008, the latest polls show its chances of passing in Friday's referendum as good. It has been approved in Poland and is only waiting for the signature of President Lech Kaczynski, a euroskeptic who has said he won't sign it until the Irish approve it.

Most of the Czech senators come from the center-right Civic Democratic Party (ODS) of euroskeptic President Vaclav Klaus. Klaus has tried to stall the treaty's ratification on a number of occasions. In May, when the senate in Prague approved the treaty -- which meant that only his signature was required for ratification -- Klaus said that he was "disappointed" and that the treaty was "contrary to the interests of the Czech Republic." In what appears to be a concerted action with Tuesday's move, Klaus had said earlier that he would not sign the document until the court had announced its decision on all complaints.

Superstate Worries

Senator Jiri Oberfalzer, who is representing the other 16 senators, told the Czech news agency CTK Tuesday that the court needs to determine whether the adoption of the treaty would turn the EU into a "superstate." After filing the 60-page complaint on Tuesday, Oberfalzer told the Associated Press: "The main point is the question of (the treaty's) conflict with Czech sovereignty."

Opponents of the complaint worry that any additional delays could further damage the country's standing in Europe after what has been generally viewed as its poor performance as holder of the rotating EU presidency from January to June.

After meeting with European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso on Tuesday, ODS chairman and former Prime Minister Mirek Topolanek said that the Czech Republic might also lose a seat on the Commission if it did not ratify the treaty soon, according to the CTK news agency.

A Complicated Past, An Uncertain Future

This is not the first time the party has tried to block the treaty with a complaint to the Constitutional Court. Senators opposed to the treaty filed a similar complaint last year focused on a number of controversial passages. In November, after several months of deliberations, the court ruled that the passages did not violate Czech law. The current complaint questions the constitutionality of the entire reform document rather than individual provisions.

The treaty faced a similar constitutional challenge in Germany. But, in June, the country's Constitutional Court ruled that the treaty did not violate the country's constitution. The German decision included the finding that the treaty did not create the kind of "superstate" that Czech opponents to the treaty are now complaining about. The treaty was ratified by the Bundestag and signed by German President Horst Köhler earlier this month.

The history of the Lisbon Treaty is a long one. It has been five years since EU leaders approved the text of the European constitution in Rome. After the constitution was rejected in two referenda, in France and the Netherlands, the draft was scrapped. Under German leadership, however, the text was brought back to life in its current incarnation as the Treaty of Lisbon.

The streamlined treaty was supposed to have gone into effect at the end of 2008. However, Irish voters then rejected the treaty in a referendum and the EU was thrown into yet another crisis.

If this Friday's referendum ends in a "yes" vote in Ireland, Poland and the Czech Republic will surely feel more pressure to sign. But even if the Czech court gives the treaty the green light and Klaus signs it, danger could still be lurking in another corner of the EU.

David Cameron, the leader of Britain's Conservative Party, is favorite to become the country's new prime minister after general elections, which are expected for next April or May. The current Labour government has already ratified the treaty. But in a recent letter to fellow euroskeptic Vaclav Klaus, Cameron said that he would call a referendum on the treaty in Britain if he won the election. Given Britain's largely euroskeptic population, the result would probably be a "no."

jtw -- with wire reports


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