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1. 10. 2009 17:11

Czech EU minister: Prague must ratify Lisbon before year's end

EurActiv; Published: Thursday 1 October 2009

If the Lisbon Treaty ratification process in the Czech Republic is delayed beyond the end of the year, the country will lose its credibility in the EU for years to come, Czech European Affairs Minister Štefan Füle told in an exclusive interview.

When a group of Czech senators filed a complaint against the Lisbon Treaty with the Czech Constitutional Court on 29 May, the judges promised the issue would be dealt with by a fast-track procedure. Even then, it is still possible that ratification could be postponed until early 2010. Is there any way that the ratification process can be completed by the end of this year? 

Once the Court has given its ruling, there should be no obstacles left for the president, whose signature completes the ratification process in the Czech Republic. I believe we can complete the ratification process by the end of the year as we promised, together with other EU countries, at the June European Council.

Some European politicians used very stern language with the Czech Republic, warning that if the country continues to hold up the ratification process, it well may lose its European commissioner should the new EU executive be appointed under the Nice Treaty. How would you react to such a threat? Could the Czech Republic indeed lose its commissioner? 

To a certain extent, the restlessness of some EU countries regarding the duration of the ratification process is understandable. The ratification of the Lisbon Treaty is essential to the resolution of many key institutional issues concerning the functioning of the EU – be it the structure of the next Commission, or such things as creating new high-level positions – the president of the European Council and the High Representative for Foreign Affairs. Holding up the ratification process is counterproductive for the whole European Union.

As far as the number of commissioners is concerned, the Treaty of Nice provides that as soon as the number of member countries reaches 27, which happened when Bulgaria and Romania joined the club in 2007, the number of commissioners will be reduced and the countries will rotate in these positions.

However, it does not say anything about how far the Commission should be downsized. At the moment, it is unclear how the downsized Commission should look; therefore such deliberations are nothing but speculation. You must also keep in mind that every change in the composition of the Commission should be adopted unanimously by all member states. It means that also those countries which might potentially lose their commissioner would need to agree with such changes.

In case of a 'yes' vote in Ireland, holding up a ratification process would generate repercussions for the Czech Republic. Do you have an idea how big and how serious these repercussions might be? 

I do not want to speculate on potential repercussions, at least because the discussion in the Czech Republic is not as much 'if' to ratify the Lisbon Treaty but rather 'when' this will happen. But holding up the process will not help the credibility of our country. During its presidency, the Czech Republic to a large extent took credit for negotiating the so-called 'Irish guarantees', which helped open the way to the second Irish referendum, and giving the Lisbon Treaty a second chance.

If the Czech Republic were not now able to stick to the commitments from the June European Council, namely to complete the ratification process by the end of the year, it might lose its political credit for many years to come.

Speculation is growing about the motivation of Czech anti-Lisbon senators and President Václav Klaus, their alleged strategy being to hold up the process until the general elections in the UK. In that case, the Tories have promised to reopen ratification by holding a referendum, which would most probably bury the Lisbon Treaty for good. David Cameron even sent a letter to President Klaus last week asking him to hold up the process. Does the government have any options for discouraging the president from such step? 

The ratification process in the Czech Republic is independent of the ratification process in the UK. There is no link between them. Ratification of the Lisbon Treaty is a sovereign decision of any EU member country. I regard any linking of completing the ratification process of the Lisbon Treaty in the Czech Republic with any potential interests of the British Conservatives as ill-founded and counterproductive. Not only for the Czech Republic but for the whole EU. In the past, I stressed many times that it was important to complete the Czech ratification process as soon as possible and the government also recently [on 16 September] called on the senators not to delay the process.

Many experts on Czech constitutional law argue that while the president is not directly ordered by the constitution when to sign the treaty, he should do it without any unnecessary delay. Do you think it would be possible, should Mr. Klaus keep hesitating with his signature under the Lisbon Treaty, to file a complaint against him with the Constitutional Court, as some experts have suggested? 

I do not want to make forecasts as to what will be the developments. However, I believe the president is well aware of his political responsibility that goes hand-in-hand with this document. The parliamentary part of ratification was completed in May 2009. To conclude the process, we miss only the signature of the president, who was waiting for the senators to file their complaint with the Constitutional Court. I am convinced that the president will base his decision upon the Court's ruling as well as the opinion of the Parliament, where both chambers vote for the Lisbon Treaty by constitutional majority [qualified majority in this case means more than 60% of all deputies and senators together].

If the Constitutional Court finds no contradiction between the Lisbon Treaty and the Czech constitution, then I cannot imagine that a president of a democratic country would ignore not only the opinion of the Czech government, which concluded the treaty on behalf of the Czech Republic, but also the Constitutional Court, and above all the will of the constitutional majority of the parliament members.

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