Most EU leaders certainly hoped it wouldn’t come to this: a failure by a single country to ratify the Treaty of Lisbon, the third rejection of proposed reforms to the European Union in three years. Once again, the EU faces renewed crisis with unanswered questions over how – and how effectively – the bloc will function in the future. But while acknowledging the set-back, most EU representatives still want the ratification process to go ahead. By contrast, long-term critics such as Czech President Václav Klaus have already declared the treaty, like its predecessor the EU constitution, finished.
For EU leaders this was a most unwanted result: a rejection of the EU’s reform treaty by one of its 27-member states. Three years after referenda in France and the Netherlands doomed the EU Constitution, a new referendum has cast doubt on its successor: 53.4 percent to 46.6 in Ireland voted against last week, making it unclear how the union will function in the future. All 27 states are needed to ratify the Treaty of Lisbon for it to come into effect. Prior to Ireland’s rejection, 18 countries had already done so. That reality left the President of the European Commission José Barroso and others calling for remaining countries to continue with the ratification process.
Here in the Czech Republic – which has not yet ratified the document – the Irish vote has left politicians divided. While the Prime Minister Mirek Topolánek of the Civic Democratic Party has been cautious, adopting a wait and see approach, the country’s President Václav Klaus was quick to pounce, suggesting the treaty was finished. Others, like MEP Jan Zahradil agree more or less the same; we spoke to Mr Zahradil on Monday as he was en route to Strasbourg:
“I think that the rules are clear: either all agree or I don’t think the treaty can be made valid. I don’t see much sense in further ratification. Like we saw after referenda in the Netherlands and France, I think that the EU now needs a reflection period. Of course, formally, ratification can continue, but I don’t see the point.”
But some members of the government – like the Education Minister Ondřej Liška – disagree, as do members of the opposition, such as the deputy speaker of the lower house Lubomír Zaorálek. He spoke to Radio Prague earlier on the phone from Ostrava:
“Certainly it’s a very serious complication but I am convinced the ratification process will have to continue because there are global issues which need to be addressed: climate change, immigration and security in Europe. This is no time to wait. I am convinced we can achieve deep European integration and that we need this document. We also have to ask Ireland for help: I don’t think that Ireland can ‘opt out’ now. We need to negotiate to find a solution with our partners and I hope we’ll be strong enough.”
This week EU leaders will meet at a summit in Brussels to discuss the rocky road ahead, although which options will be favoured in the end remains unclear. This Monday, also the French President Nicholas Sarkozy – in favour of continuing ratification - arrives in Prague. He too is expected to reiterate the need for ratification to continue to save the Treaty of Lisbon from a less than glorious fate.
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