There were sighs of relief on Friday after European Union leaders agreed legal guarantees to Ireland, seen as crucial if Irish ratification of the EU’s Lisbon Treaty is to succeed in a second referendum. But they haven’t counted on Czech President Václav Klaus, who’s so far refused to sign the document despite approval in both chambers of parliament and now says the Irish guarantees amount to new legal arrangements that require separate ratification in the Czech parliament.
It was an eleventh-hour agreement and one seen as fundamental for the Irish government to persuade its citizens to vote “Yes” in a second referendum on the EU’s Lisbon Treaty, after rejecting the document last year. The agreement, brokered in Brussels, gives the Irish copper-plated legal guarantees – in the form of an EU protocol - that the Lisbon Treaty will not infringe on Ireland’s traditional neutrality, nor will it affect taxation or abortion policy.
Ireland’s prime minister Brian Cowen said the agreement meant his country would be able to hold a referendum at the beginning of October. The Czech prime minister Jan Fischer, chairing the meeting on behalf of the Czech EU Presidency, had this to say to reporters in Brussels afterwards:
“This is a document of explanation and clarification, and – I’d like to underline – does not change one iota of the Lisbon Treaty. The guarantees and the method of accepting them will not lead to the ratification process being reopened. The guarantees specifically affect tax, Ireland’s neutrality and social matters. And the important thing is that these are not only guarantees for Ireland – in the area of tax for example they also apply to other member states.”
But the Irish provisions were immediately attacked by Lisbon’s opponents. Their spiritual father, president Václav Klaus, told reporters on a trip to Serbia that even a six-year-old could see the protocols amounted to an amendment to the Lisbon Treaty and therefore required separate ratification.
Critics say he and his fellow Lisbon opponents are simply playing for time, possibly in the hope of delaying the process until the British Conservatives – presumably - win the next election and – maybe - hold a referendum that would - in theory - reverse Britain’s own ratification. A tall order perhaps. But listen to President Klaus’s closest advisor – his secretary Ladislav Jakl – speaking on Czech Television’s influential Václav Moravec programme on Sunday:
“Is it not a good thing, to let democracy have its say in approving such a fundamental document as the Lisbon Treaty? A treaty that abolishes the independence of the member states of the European Union and forms a new superstate called the European Union? So far there’s been no democracy in this process, because the Brussels centralists have learnt their lesson, and understand that too much democracy means the project of centralisation won’t work. So they’re slowly taking out the democracy in order to succeed. Now there’s a chance of reintroducing democracy by, for example, holding a referendum on the Lisbon Treaty in Britain. And if President Klaus had the chance of contributing to that process, I would certainly advise him to do so.”
It’s not clear how long Mr Klaus can delay putting his signature to Lisbon, or whether betting on a British referendum under a future Tory government is pie in the sky. But once again the Czech president has made it abundantly clear he’s in no hurry to sign.