After months of fierce opposition to the Lisbon treaty Czech President Václav Klaus has finally expressed readiness to sign the EUs reform document. In a statement issued shortly after EU leaders granted the Czech Republic an opt-out from the Charter of Fundamental rights on Friday Mr. Klaus said he would raise no further conditions for the document’s ratification. So is the way now clear for Lisbon?
When President Klaus surprised the whole of the EU last month with his last-minute demand for an opt-out, he wanted to make sure that the Lisbon treaty, once it enters into force, will not allow for property claims from the Sudeten Germans expelled from Czechoslovakia after the Second World War under the Beneš decrees.
Some in the Czech Republic, including of course Václav Klaus, have been concerned that the Lisbon treaty might enable these people, or their descendants, to seek compensation at European courts of law, on the basis of the EU’s Charter of Fundamental Rights.
President Klaus now believes that this will not happen as the Charter of Fundamental Rights will not apply to the Czech Republic.
But others are far from happy with this arrangement. Social Democrat leader Jiří Paroubek criticized the caretaker government of Jan Fischer over the fact that the opt-out involves the whole Charter of Fundamental Rights, rather than just those parts that have to do with property issues. The country’s trade unions are worried that Czech employees will enjoy weaker protection compared to those EU countries for whom the charter will be binding.
Moreover, on a practical level, the Czech opt-out will enter into force only after it’s ratified by all EU member states. The plan is for the opt-out to be included in the next EU accession treaty, which will most likely be the one with Croatia. That won’t happen for some time, perhaps three years, and as Mr Paroubek pointed out, there will be enough time for potential property claims. So it might well turn out that the opt-out will not prevent what Mr Klaus was concerned about, but will hit the Czech Republic adversely in other ways.
Mr Klaus must now wait for the Czech Constitutional Court to rule on Tuesday whether the document is in line with Czech law. Some Euro-sceptic senators in fact supplemented their complaint with a last minute add-on but it should not affect the verdict in any way. The court ruled on parts of the treaty last year, and said it was in line with the Czech constitution, so it’s generally expected that the court will reach the same verdict tomorrow as well. And after that, it will be once again up to President Václav Klaus when he puts his signature to the treaty and finalizes its ratification.