France took up the rotating EU presidency on Tuesday amidst increasing concerns over the fate of the Lisbon Treaty. Polish President Lech Kaczynski unexpectedly announced he would not sign the treaty following its rejection by Ireland and there is concern over the stands of Germany and the Czech Republic where lawmakers have asked their constitutional courts to review the document, delaying its ratification. President Sarkozy pulled out the big guns on Monday night, saying that France would make the treaty’s ratification its top priority and dealing the Czechs a sharp rebuke for delaying the process, especially in view of their pending EU presidency. Czech officials who are expected to cooperate closely with France in meeting long-term EU goals have reacted coolly to the criticism, saying it was unwarranted. I asked political analyst Jiří Pehe whether this latest cross-fire – and the country’s differing views could hamper close cooperation on EU ground.
“I do not think that this incident will negatively affect relations between France and the Czech Republic. I think that what all politicians pushing for the completion of the ratification process– not just the French – are saying is that it is important for the EU to know whether we have 26 countries in favour of the Lisbon Treaty and one against or whether the score is say twenty four to three. That is an extremely important piece of information because that will also determine whether any future treaty which might replace the Lisbon Treaty should be pretty much the same or similar or whether it should be totally different. And this is why I think the French are pushing for the treaty’s ratification by all members.”
On a recent visit to Prague President Sarkozy failed to convince Czechs to speed up the ratification process. He is now clearly determined to put more pressure on Czech politicians – how will this affect the two countries’ cooperation within the EU?
“Well, naturally the Czechs will not like being pushed by the French, but then the country is not in a very good position. It is a small country, a junior member of the EU and one of the biggest benefactors of funds from the richer EU members. So it is not in a very good position to fend off criticism from a more experienced, stronger and richer member of the EU. This pressure from France can of course cause a cool-down in bilateral relations but in the end I think that Czech politicians will listen carefully to what the French have to say simply because the French have the potential to isolate the Czech Republic in the EU and this would be something that Prime Minister Mirek Topolánek and other politicians would not want to happen ahead of the Czech EU presidency.”
And what are the chances of the Lisbon Treaty being approved in the Czech Republic in the foreseeable future?
“I think the chances of ratification are quite high. In fact Foreign Minister Schwarzenberg said in reply to the French criticism that he doesn’t understand what the criticism is all about simply because the Czech Republic said that if the Constitutional Court rules that the treaty is in line with the Czech Constitution then the government will move ahead with its ratification.”