Sunday 11 October 2009

What is to be done about Vaclav Klaus?

The speeches, actions and possible further obstruction by Czech President Vaclav Klaus with regard to the amending Treaty of Lisbon of the European Union give rise to two important questions.

The questions are linked, but one concerns the Czech Republic, the other one the EU and its member states.


Czech constitutional crisis

What can and should the Czech Republic do to solve its constitutional crisis?


EU institutional crisis

What can and should the European Union and its member states do to solve the institutional crisis?


In both cases, we need to think about institutional weaknesses (“liberum veto”) and the need for robust structures, highlighted by Vaclav Klaus’ lonely stand against the entry into force of the EU Lisbon Treaty, democratically approved by all 27 member states.

Ralf Grahn


  1. where do you live dude? .. i live in EU! i live CZ. i dont like EU. EU is week and follow only interests of FR. GER. GB and other "western" countries. I agree with Vaclav Klaus. I wish he would not sign this poor 800 pages waste of paper thing. bureacracy rullez EU. I dont trust to ANY politics of EU.

  2. Anonymous,

    Your answer to the two questions is, in effect, paralysis in the Czech Republic and the European Union.

    Perhaps we will see more constructive suggestions, here and elsewhere.

    By the way, the consolidated version of the Lisbon Treaty (including all the old provisions that remain in force) runs to 388 pages, all protocols, declarations and comparative tables included.

  3. Despite what Anonymous says, Czech popular opinion, confirmed by a recent Sanep agency poll appears to favour the Lisbon Treaty and an early signature from President Klaus.
    Even his concern to avoid the risk of compensation for the displaced ethnic Germans is not universally held in the Czech Republic. It looks like he is playing a complex political game.
    If the Czech Constitutional Court rejects the latest challenge to the Treaty, will an "Irish" deal on the Charter be enough to get Klaus to sign?

  4. Clevescomment,

    Thank you for your valuable comment, including the reasoned news and blog post behind the links.

    In addition to the polls on Czech opinion in favour of the Lisbon Treaty and of President Klaus signing it, I think that I have seen high approval ratings for Klaus, but sinking fairly quickly.

    I see no reason how the EU Charter could open up new legal avenues for dispossessed Germans, and the Czech government has said as much.

    Therefore, Klaus' fears seem to be of the imaginary kind, but politically they may still resonate with sections of the public.

    In principle, an explanatory declaration could be a solution, although in the case of Ireland the government wanted assurances to show that the public need not fear some of the unsubstantiated claims from the No side.

    It would be a new situation, if the highest state institutions - supposed to be able to distinguish between fact and fiction - need assurances of the same kind.

    It is anyone's guess if Klaus will be content with anything less than wrecking the Lisbon Treaty.

    If he continues on his line of obstruction, or the risk remains, the Czech government and parliament still face the question what to do to solve the constitutional crisis.

  5. I read elsewhere that the Czech Constitution is unclear about the need for a Presidential signature. Apparently he is delegated the role of negotiating international treaties, but these have then to be voted by Parliament. It could thus be argued that this vote is the definitive acceptance or rejection of the Treaty.

    The issue would need be tested in the Constitutional Court but that might need a parliamentary vote. And in the present difficult state of the coalition government that could be difficult. The Court decision would, no doubt, be a long time in arriving (needing much research and reflection). Meanwhile, Cameron could be in power in the UK.

    Where does this leave the Czech Republic? In a Constitutional crisis, as Ralf has said.

    Where does it leave the EU? On tenterhooks.

  6. French Derek,

    There are, of course, Czech experts on constitutional law, but some of these questions may be uncharted waters.

    My understanding is that the Czech Republic is predominantly a parliamentary democracy, based on the citizens, and the President is elected by the Parliament.

    This is the context for the President's powers to negotiate and to ratify treaties, which need parliamentary approval.

    If the President cannot execute his official duties, for serious reasons, he can be deposed by the Parliament, and the powers are transferred to the Prime Minister.

    It does not seem unreasonable to see a deliberate breach of duties and/or abuse of power as sufficient cause for deposing a President.

  7. Grahnlaw: Do you read the first comment? What have I written to your previous article?
    Anonymous of the first comment: I happen to live in the Czech republic too (regrettably) and I don't trust more the Czech republic than the EU. Only isolationists like you can love more Czech (dis)orders than the European ones.

    french derek said: "I read elsewhere that the Czech Constitution is unclear about the need for a Presidential signature."
    Yes, it is unclear. The constitution says about his powers (among other) only that he signs laws and that he negotiates international treaties and ratifies them. Signing the laws requires no confirmation by other person or body according the constitution, but ratification the international treaties requires acceptance of the head of government or another its member. That is all, nothing that he has to sign.

  8. You could always try the traditional method used by those of a seemingly superior mindset:

  9. Citizen of Europe,

    In my latest answer to French Derek, I tried to outline my understanding of the constitutional framework and the duties of the President, as I understand them at this point in time.

    If the Czech constitutional crisis is not solved, the institutional crisis at EU level will continue.

    Regardless of if the acute crisis at EU level is solved this time around, the treaty reform process and the ratification problems have exposed the structural weakness of the European Union.

    The 'liberum veto' is a 'road to hell', to use a famous expression by a Czech thinker.

    The European Union is based on voluntary participation, but let the willing countries advance and the unwilling leave themselves outside.

  10. WG,

    In my mind, one of the best descriptions of the forces leading to World War I is 'Les Thibault', by Roger Martin du Gard.

    The League of Nations was an effort to establish a new order of peace, but traditional notions of 'sovereignty' made it too weak.

    The 'sovereign' states of Europe were led by shortsighted politicians, who found the price of more binding rules too high to pay, but by rejecting the Briand plan they failed to stop the descent into World War II and the enormous human and material costs it entailed.

    European integration is the post WW2 effort to guarantee lasting peace on our continent and to promote the wellbeing of its peoples.

    The EU is still fundamentally shaped as an intergovernmental confederation, but it carries more positive germs for the future than the earlier efforts.


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