The World From Berlin Czechs Nudge Lisbon Treaty 'Towards Finishing Line'

The upper house of the Czech parliament on Wednesday gave the green light to the European Union's Lisbon Treaty. German commentators agreed the reform package had overcome a key hurdle but warned that many obstacles remain -- not least the Irish revote.

With its approval by the Czech Senate on Wednesday, the European Union's Lisbon Treaty moved an important step closer to the finishing line. Still, its advocates harbor no illusions -- the controversial treaty, which aims to make EU institutions more flexible and provide them with additional offices including a president and a foreign minsiter still has a bumpy road ahead of it.

The Lisbon Treaty: Still far from a done deal.

The Lisbon Treaty: Still far from a done deal.

For the time being, advocates of the treaty are breathing a sigh of relief. Speaking after 54 of 79 Czech senators voted in favor of the treaty, European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso said: "This is very good news. I am very happy about the approval today."

The Czech ratification will be finally sealed when it has been signed by President Vaclav Klaus, a euroskeptic who may take his time and also see to it that the treaty is reviewed by his country's highest court. In all likelihood, though, the focus will switch to Ireland, where a second referendum expected later this year will pose the final big hurdle for the package of reforms. Irish voters rejected the Lisbon Treaty in a first vote in June 2008.

The international treaty -- which replaces the ill-fated European Constitution rejected by French and Dutch voters with a slightly altered version of the same document, this time written in legalese, filled with caveats for different member states and sans some of the features of a United Europe such as a flag and an anthem -- can only be adopted when it is approved by all members. In addition to Ireland, the Czech Republic, Poland and Germany must all still sign the treaty before it can be officially ratified.

German papers on Thursday weigh in on the significance of the Czech decision and looked ahead to the Irish vote. Editorialists are united in their view that this is a big step forward. Still, they warn, the treaty faces an uncertain future.

The left-wing Berliner Zeitung writes:

"With this step the Czech Republic has avoided further embarrassment in the European arena and has side-stepped harsh criticism at the EU summit which starts in Prague Thursday. Instead, acting Prime Minister Mirek Topolanek's government has earned a pat on the back on their last working day. The leader, who fought for its ratification, has, in the last minute, managed a respectable exit from power."

"The country wasn't in a position to effectively lead the bloc since the collapse of the government in March at the latest -- and this in the midst of a global economic crisis of all times. At least the Czechs are no longer blocking the EU's path to reform."

"But before the pro-Lisbon fans can start their celebrations, President Vaclav Klaus, head of state and bitter opponent of the treaty, must sign the document. Following the Supreme Court's ruling and the vote of two chambers of parliament, he should lay aside his ego, respect the democratic process and sign it."

The financial daily Handelsblatt writes:

"Now there are just a few remaining obstacles facing the set of rules that the EU has struggled with for so long: The German Constitutional Court's ruling in June and the addition of the signatures of Poland and the Czech Republic. Then there is the Irish vote in the autumn. There are good chances the treaty will finally work out."

"Curiously, this breakthrough is partly due to the financial crisis. When a major storm rattles the global markets it becomes clear just how much security the EU offers its smaller members. The euro has protected Ireland from a powerful speculative attack on its currency. Hungary, Romania and Latvia, meanwhile, have benefited from extensive help from Brussels to deal with their balance of payments problems."

"This successful development does not mean, however, that the EU has won its battle against its opponents. In the forthcoming European elections, parties from both the right and the left are campaigning to push Europe's emphasis back towards individual nations. They will not fail to criticize EU institutions in any way possible. In this light it is more important than ever that the national political elites stop their polemic tirades against Brussels and stand behind Europe."

The center-right Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung writes:

"Now advocates of the Lisbon project have renewed reason for hope. Meanwhile, pressure on the Irish rises, not least because the Czech skeptics, even with the support of their leader Klaus, failed to obstruct the project. The Czech president wanted to wait until after a second Irish vote before signing the ratification. But now he has little opportunity to block the reforms in the near future. And because both chambers of the Czech parliament have approved the document, the president -- who is in the center of power following the collapse of the Topolanek government -- has been pushed firmly into the defensive."

"Klaus used some dubious arguments in the debates about the constitution and the reform agreement. But in his bluster he often missed the goal and helped his opponents in their bid to label him as a separatist. In this affair, Prague's entire political system failed to look good. Domestic politics were more important to Czech political protagonists than the success of their EU presidency. And there remains scant chance that Prague's interim government can deliver positive surprises. But most EU members are happy that the ruined Czech presidency did not end up taking a bigger victim than Prague's prime minister."

The center-left Süddeutsche Zeitung writes:

"With Prague's decision, the EU's drawn-out obstacle course is now nearing the finishing line. If the German Constitutional Court manages to rule, and approve, the treaty before summer, then there remains a single stumbling block: Ireland. If all the other countries have ratified the treaty by then, Ireland will face a difficult decision."

"The other 26 member states have made it easy for Dublin to hold a second referendum. They have broadly addressed Irish concerns -- even when they were factually unfounded. Ireland's neutrality willl now be explicitly respected. Meanwhile, fears that Ireland may one day loose its seat in European Commission have been countered by the decision that every country will always have one commissioner."

"One can ask why the Irish should be given this special attention. The answer is easy: The Lisbon Treaty is essential for the smooth functioning of the EU in our radically changing world. It would be wrong to let it fail. The EU with its old structures is simply inefficient, especially given the size of the problems it tackles on a day-to-day basis."

"Now it is up to the other member states of the EU to give the Irish a concrete plan, rather than just promises. The EU cannot wait until the cows come home. To be precise, the treaty must be approved by the end of October when the period of service of the current commission ends. The Irish vote will need to happen by mid-October. If that doesn't materialize then the reforms will be put off for at least another five years -- and that would mean the end of the treaty."

-- Jess Smee, 12.45 p.m. CET


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