The parliament will finally decide on the Lisbon Treaty

Institute of International Relations

Czech Republic

If we look at the political discourse in the country, the long term consequences of the problems of ratifying the Lisbon Treaty are discussed only to a limited degree. Since the Czech Republic has not yet ratified the treaty, the debate is still primarily about whether to ratify it or not. It is foremost the critics of the treaty that actively stress that the treaty would radically change the EU. The advocates, on the other hand, tend to emphasise that the treaty will improve the functioning of the EU without providing any radical changes.[1] In the academic debate, some of the think tanks have engaged in more long term reflections on what could be the consequences of a failure to ratify the Lisbon Treaty, if, for instance, it could open the door to an EU based on flexible integration.[2]
 
In the Czech Republic the fate of the Irish ratification of the Lisbon Treaty has been awaited with great interest since this has become important also for the Czech ratification of the treaty. President Václav Klaus has argued that he will not ratify the treaty before the Irish have decided on the issue.[3] The conclusions of the December 2008 European Council might even, if only to a limited degree, be helpful also for the Czech Ratification. During the negotiations on both the Constitutional Treaty and the Lisbon Treaty, it has been widely demanded that the Czech Republic should be allowed to keep its commissioner. Therefore, it seems that the change that would allow each member state to have its own commissioner beyond 2014 at least would not have a negative impact on the likelihood of the Czech Ratification.[4] Furthermore, the Czech government has welcomed the Irish demands for legal guarantees regarding tax neutrality in relation to the Lisbon Treaty, and Prime Minister Topolánek has argued that such guarantees should be binding for all countries.[5]
 
The most well known Czech critic of the Lisbon Treaty, however, President Václav Klaus, has condemned the non-systematic way of changing what was decided in the treaty, even if he, in principle, is not against the “one country, one commissioner” principle.[6] Therefore, the outcome of the December 2008 European Council has not changed his opinion on the treaty, and it is debatable what impact the Irish deal can have on the members of the upper chamber, who still have not voted on the treaty. In the Chamber of Deputies the treaty was finally accepted after several delays in February 2009.
 
The Czech Republic, as the presiding country of the EU, is in a peculiar position since the country will have to lead the negotiations with Ireland regarding the details of the deal that should be the base for a second referendum in the country, but simultaneously the ratification of the treaty is not yet secured in the Czech Republic. Since the Constitutional Court in November stated that the Lisbon Treaty, at least in the points the Court analysed, is not in contradiction with the Czech Constitution, it seems that it will be solely a political question whether to ratify the treaty. However, the court dealt only with a specific number of questions that had been specified by the Senate, and even if it seems unlikely, it cannot be ruled out that either a group of MPs, senators or the president will put a new request to the Court with substantially different questions regarding the compatibility of the Lisbon Treaty and the Czech Constitution.[7]
 
The Chamber of Deputies should have voted on the treaty in December at the initiative of the Social Democrats, but the vote was postponed until February since the treaty proponents were uncertain as to whether they would manage to get the necessary 3/5 majority in favour of the treaty.[8] In the end the treaty received the support of 127 of the 200 members of the lower chamber. The MPs who supported the ratification were the ones from the biggest opposition party, the Social Democratic Party, the two minor coalition parties in the current governing coalition, the Christian Democrats and the Greens, and parts of the major governing party, the Civic Democratic Party (ODS). However, a fraction of the ODS (34 of 76 the party’s MPs) voted against the treaty.[9] The party convention of the ODS called for a deal that would be based on a trade-off with the Social Democrats. The part of the ODS sceptical of the Lisbon Treaty, which might be more crucial in the Senate than in the Chamber of Deputies, would support it in exchange for a Social Democratic support of the US radar base (a part of the US antimissile system) planned to be built in the Czech Republic.[10] The Senate has postponed the voting on the Lisbon Treaty and in March 2009 it was still uncertain when this would take place.[11]
 
In the aftermath of the debates on the Lisbon Treaty, one new political party has been formed in the Czech Republic. The Civic Democratic Party (ODS) struggled with internal disputes partly as a consequence of the party’s recently more EU friendly approach. At the party’s convention the party’s former strong man and founder, the current president Václav Klaus, left the party. Petr Mach, who is the chair of the think tank at the Center for Politics and Economy, which was founded by Václav Klaus in 1998, thereafter founded a eurosceptic political party; the Party of Free Citizens. Among the founders of the party, there are several persons who are close to Klaus: three current members of the Chamber of Deputies from the ODS have declared that they support this new party, and among the founders of the party are also one of Klaus’ advisors as well as both his sons.[12] Libertas will also be a candidate in the election to the European Parliament in the Czech Republic. It is so far little known who will actually be the candidate for Libertas, but the controversial former director of the private TV channel, Nova, and current MEP, Vladimír Železný, is one of the persons behind the registration of Libertas in the Czech Republic.[13]
 
The ratification problems of the Lisbon Treaty have also forced the Czech Presidency to start considering how the new Commission should be formed in autumn. The government has stated that the presidency is working with two possible scenarios. The first scenario is that the Lisbon Treaty would come into force at the end of 2009 and the old Commission would then get an extended mandate until this happens. That would solve the problem of the number of Commissioners in the new Commission, since the Lisbon Treaty postpones this reduction of Commissioners at least until 2014. The second scenario is that if the Lisbon Treaty will not come into force during the autumn, the number of Commissioners will have to be lowered. Therefore, the Czech government aims at reaching a deal concerning a reduced number of Commissioners during the Czech Presidency in case the Lisbon Treaty cannot come into force. One version that is discussed is one in which there would be 26 Commissioners and the country without a Commissioner would, as compensation, receive the High Representative for the Common Foreign and Security Policy.[14]
 
The Czech government has not yet expressed any official view either regarding who will be nominated as the new Czech Commissioner or regarding which portfolio this person ideally should have. Deputy Prime Minister for European Affairs Alexandr Vondra, however, has argued that the Czech Republic should aspire toward any of the following resorts in the new Commission: energy, communication, environment or external relations (although the preferred resort is energy). All these policy fields are considered to be of crucial importance to the Czech Republic.[15] The Social Democrats wanted to see the current Commissioner, Vladimír Špidla, as the election leader to the European Parliament, but he declined the offer.[16] The former Prime Minister might receive the backing of the Social Democrats if he would attempt to defend his position in the Commission. It is, however, unlikely that the current governing coalition would support his name, even if it cannot be excluded that such a deal could be made. In Czech newspapers, there have also been speculations about the current Prime Minister as a potential new Commissioner given the instability of the current governing coalition.[17]




[1] For a good example see Monika MacDonagh Pajerová: ale akceschopná EU se bez smlouvy neobejde (an efficient EU cannot do without the treaty) available at: http://www.anoproevropu.cz/cs/articles/archive023.html (last access: 21 January 2009).


[2] See, e.g., David Král: Multi – speed Europe and the Lisbon Treaty – threat or opportunity?, available at: http://www.europeum.org/doc/pdf/895.pdf (last access: 21 January 2009).


[3] Lisabonská smlouva nejde proti české ústavě, rozhodl soud (The Lisbon Treaty is not in contradiction to the Czech Constitution, said the court), 26 November 2008, available at: http://zpravy.idnes.cz/lisabonska-smlouva-nejde-proti-ceske-ustave-rozho... (last access: 21 January 2009).


[4] Každý stát EU bude mít dál eurokomisaře (All EU states will continue to have a Euro-commissioner), 12 December 2008, available at: http://www.ceskenoviny.cz/tema/index_view.php?id=349507&id_seznam=21 (last access: 21 January 2009).


[5] Blahoslav Hruška: Podle Topolánka začne Lisabon platit na konci roku 2009 (According to Topolánek the Lisbon Treaty will come into force at the end of 2009), 12 December 2008, available at: http://aktualne.centrum.cz/eurorubrika/clanek.phtml?id=624657 (last access: 21 January 2009).


[6] Klaus nesouhlasí s tím,jak Brusel přistupuje k lisabonské smlouvě (Klaus does not agree with the way Brussels approaches the Lisbon Treaty), Czech News Agency, 12 December 2008.


[7] Lisabonská smlouva nejde proti české ústavě, rozhodl soud (The Lisbon Treaty is not in contradiction to the Czech Constitution, said the court), 26 November 2008, available at: http://zpravy.idnes.cz/lisabonska-smlouva-nejde-proti-ceske-ustave-rozho... (last access: 21 January 2009).


[8] Sněmovna přerušila jednání o lisabonské smlouvě do počátku února (The Chamber of Deputies interrupted the debate on the Lisbon Treaty until the beginning of February), Czech News Agency, 9 December 2008.


[9] Sněmovna schválila lisabonskou smlouvu (The Chamber of Deputies indorsed the Lisbon Treaty), available at: http://www.ceskenoviny.cz/zpravy/snemovna-schvalila-lisabonskou-smlouvu/... (last access: 16 March 2009).


[10] The actual resolution of the party convention is formulated rather vaguely, but it states that MPs from the party can vote according to their own preferences regarding the Lisbon Treaty and that the radar base is a priority. See Usnesení 19. Kongresu ODS (Resolutions of the 19 Congress of the ODS), available at: http://www.ods.cz/kongres/?id=vystupy&sub=607, (last access: 21 January 2009).


[11] Senát schvalování lisabonské smlouvy o měsíc odložil (The senate postponed the ratification of the Lisbon Treaty by one month), Czech News Agency, 10 December 2008.


[12] Strana svobodných občanů (The Party of Free Citizens), available at: http://www.svobodni.cz/ (last access: 21 January 2009).


[13] Czech MEP Zelezny establishes Libertas.cz movement, 20 January 2009, available at: http://www.ceskenoviny.cz/domov/zpravy/vladimir-zelezny-zalozil-hnuti-li... (last access: 21 January).


[14] Česko chce hledat záruky pro ratifikaci Lisabonu v Irsku (The Czech Republic wants to find guarantees for the ratification of the Lisbon Treaty in Ireland), 8 January 2009, available at: http://zpravy.idnes.cz/cesko-chce-hledat-zaruky-pro-ratifikaci-lisabonu-... (last access: 21 January).


[15] Vondra: ČR bude chtít eurokomisaře pro energetiku (Vondra: CZ would like a Euro-commissioner for energy), 11 November 2008, available at: http://www.lidovky.cz/vondra-cr-bude-chtit-eurokomisare-pro-energetiku-f... (last access: 21 January).


[16] Širší vedení ČSSD a KSČM budou připravovat eurovolby (The broader leadership of ČSSD and KSČM will prepare for the Euro election), Czech News Agency, 12 December 2008.


[17] Lucie Tvarůžková: Po uši v Bruselu, Hospodářské noviny, 29 December 2008.