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Check the Czechs

A Plan to stop Mr Klaus

So is the time ripe for Vaclav Klaus, the Czech president, to be given the special EU label of PDO or PGI (protected designation of origin and protected geographical indication respectively)? Look into tourist guidebooks and you will bump into a mystic Prague, the Pilsner beer you just can´t beat or the big names of international soccer, such as Petr Cech or Pavel Nedved. Still, the real regional headliner would be the current Czech head of state.

The most recent attack of Mr Klaus against the Lisbon Treaty - and the latest reason for headlines, too - arises from an idea that the Charter of Fundamental Rights enshrined in the treaty will deprive Czechs of property that they themselves took away from the Sudenten Germans; some three millions German speaking Czechs expelled from the Czech lands after WW II.

Such an argument is false since the Charter can not instruct the courts in Europe to look back to 1945 when rulling on current property disputes. But knowledge is not what matters here. It´s the emotions. The Czechs feel, even if they don´t say it out loud, that they had done something wrong when taking somebody else´s house for free and fear that justice may catch up with them one day. The fear is so widespread that not a single major political force in the Czech Republic has opposed Mr Klaus´ demands for effectively an opt-out from the Charter. Not even the social democrats who in reality should cherish the smallprint, just like their fellow socialists across the EU do. On the contrary, the Czech social democrats were the first to hurry up with supportive words for the president, scared that they might lose an important chunk of voters if they oppose him. Quite machiavellian of Mr Klaus, isn´t it?

Now the president seems to have backed off a little. In an interview last Friday in the Czech daily Lidove noviny he said, „the train with Lisbon has already gone too far and goes too fast for somebody able to stop it." Right. But does that mean he´ll really sign it? And does it mean he won´t try to stop it at a later stage, somehow, somewhere?

These questions remain unaswered. What we do known, though, is that the government has decided to flex its muscles, too. As Respekt has learned, there exists a plan to secure the ratification of the Lisbon Treaty - dear to the government and most parliamentary parties - even without Mr Klaus´signature. The trick bears the name of a legal dispute based on the bill of competence that deals with competences among the pillars of the Czech political system.

Should the situation arise that the Constitutional court okays Lisbon on October 27th, the EU gives its consent to a Czech opt-out a few days later and Mr Klaus still hesitates, then the executive would lodge an appeal to the Constitutional court. It will ask the judges whether the president can obstruct the ratification of an international treaty if he has only a formal role here and therefore whether the Prime minister, not the head of state, should be the one to sign it on behalf of the state. „The government is ready to launch the competence dispute if all the necessary conditions are met and the president doesn´t make a firm promise he´ll sign the treaty without delays," confirmed to Respekt one government source engaged in the negotiations.

The procedure may take few weeks and the verdict of the judges isn´t secured. Still it is far more likely to bring about a solution than any possible move involving Parliament since the political parties appear to be impotent vis a vis the president.

It´s quite revealing that the final European battle between Mr Klaus and the rest of the Czech political scene lays on the shoulders of the bureaucratic government of statistician Jan Fischer. But this is no act of heroism. Mr Fischer knows very well that he can´t leave for the EU summit empty-handed. Either he´ll have a guarantee that the Czech president will sign the treaty after Fischer´s return from Brussels or he´ll have to offer the rest of the EU something else. And that something is a ratification enforcement, or the competence appeal.

The representatives of the main political parties in the Czech Republic have already given Mr Fischer preliminary backing to do this. So, interesting times are ahead.

PS: Dear reader, this is the first English blog of Respekt. From now on our communication in the language of Shakespeare will be regular. We hope you enjoy the content and please do not hesitate to post your comments.

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