Tuesday, 23 June 2009

EU Lisbon Treaty: Spectre of Vaclav Klaus

A spectre is haunting Europe – the spectre of Vaclav Klaus.

The Czech Republic has a problem, which has become a European embarrassment. His name is Vaclav Klaus, and he was elected for a second term as President in 2008 by the Czech Parliament. According to the Wikipedia article on Vaclav Klaus, his term ends on 6 March 2013.

Klaus defies overwhelming scientific and political opinion on global warming, and he wants to dismantle the European Union.

The Treaty of Lisbon has been agreed by 27 member state governments and approved by 26 national parliaments including the Czech one, but Klaus stubbornly refuses to sign the ratification instrument. His arguments are rubbish, but he has signalled that in reality he waits for a British referendum to sink the Lisbon Treaty.

The consequences of multiple unanimity rules and ratification by all member states are clearly visible, but the member states have to think about damage limitation and the future of European integration.

The first question goes to the Czech government, because the Czech President and the Czech Constitution are Czech-made problems: What can the Czech government and parliament do and what will they do to break the deadlock in order to secure the timely formal ratification?

If the Czech constitutional and political machinery is unable or unwilling to conclude the ratification procedure, their European embarrassment becomes a serious European problem.

Option 1: Do nothing

The EU member states can conclude that the European Union they have built is beyond reform. Even if they reach timid unanimous agreements on treaty reform, sheer numbers in an enlarged union will practically guarantee that there is perverse opposition in at least one member state, probably more. The Treaty of Nice would remain the crowning achievement of European integration. Politically, the enlargement process could be halted in perpetuity, but it would not improve the existing EU.

Option 2: New union

Old stumbling blocks: In a week we are going to know if the German Constitutional Court (Bundesverfassungsgericht) has ruled that the Lisbon Treaty is compatible with the Constitution. In less than four months Ireland has voted for the amending treaty having received assurances from all member states. Soon after that it will be clear if the Polish President Lech Kaczynski has completed formal ratification.

New hurdles: We will also know the results of the general election in the United Kingdom and the colour of its new government. The British parliament will probably have started the debate on the Tory government’s referendum bill.

If the rest of the member states are not content to continue on the basis of the Nice Treaty, they have to consider other options.

The only realistic alternative seems to be a new union, leaving the rejectionists behind. There are least two different scenarios.

The new European Union could be formed quickly by the member states, which approve the Lisbon Treaty without the requirement for ratification by all. This closer union could then convene a convention to prepare further reform towards a more effective and democratic union.

A second scenario would be to start by calling a new convention, but it would be encumbered by the rejectionists and in the end they would not agree on and ratify a true reform treaty anyway. In practice, this alternative would be a waste of time, as shown by the tortuous reform road since the Nice Treaty.


If the core member states of the European Union stand up to Vaclav Klaus and the other rejectionists, he has (unintentionally) set in motion a process leading to a more effective and democratic European Union, without the Czech Republic and Britian, perhaps a few more.

The next months will tell if the European leaders have the resolve to separate the wheat from the chaff, or if they opt for immobility.

For the rejectionists, the proposed path should come as a blessing. They would be able to negotiate the looser relationship they want, but they would not harm the rest of Europe.

Ralf Grahn