Czech senate approves Lisbon


The approval today of the Lisbon Treaty by the Czech upper house of parliament means there are now "very good prospects" for its approval in a second Irish referendum, European Commission president Jose Manuel Barroso said.

But Czech president Vaclav Klaus said he would not ratify the treaty after its approval by the senate today, raising a new obstacle to the plan to streamline the way the European Union functions.

Mr Klaus said he would not sign the treaty for now, due to its rejection by Irish voters last year and an expected court challenge in the Czech Republic.

"The Lisbon Treaty is dead for this moment. It is dead because it was rejected in a referendum in one member state. Therefore, a decision on ratification of this treaty is not on the agenda at this point," Mr Klaus told reporters.

The Czech upper house approved the EU's reform charter earlier today. Ireland plans to hold a new vote later this year after the rejection of the treaty in a referendum last June.

The Czech Senate voted 54-20, with seven abstaining or not voting, to ratify the plan meant to simplify decision-making in a Union that has grown from 15 to 27 members in two rounds of expansion over the past five years.

The Lisbon Treaty would give the EU a beefed-up foreign representative, a long-term president, remove national vetoes on some decisions and raise the voting power of big EU states.

Mr Klaus and lawmakers among the ruling right-wing Civic Democrats say the treaty takes away national sovereignty and is a step towards a European superstate.

Outgoing Czech prime minister Mirek Topolanek signed the charter, arguing that approving it was better than risking an erosion of the EU, which would expose the former Communist country to Russian influence.

"I do not accept the Lisbon Treaty with any great euphoria," Mr Topolanek told the Senate ahead of the vote. "But I take it as a price for membership in the club." Rejection would "chase us into Moscow's sphere of influence", he said.

Mr Topolanek is a staunch supporter of NATO and the United States. He sees them as vital allies to prevent Russia from regaining sway in central Europe - a top policy point of right-of-centre politicians across the region. But has also said he can see where the EU plays a role.

European Commission president Jose Manuel Barroso welcomed the senate vote, saying it could help push ratification forward.

"After the news today there are very good prospects for the Irish vote," he told a conference on jobs in Prague.

Mr Topolanek's cabinet will hand over power to a caretaker administration on Friday after it lost a March no-confidence vote, halfway through the country's EU presidency, which harmed policymaking in the union.

The Lisbon treaty also still lacks the signature from eurosceptic Polish president Lech Kaczynski and ratification has also not been completed in Germany when it faces a challenge at the constitutional court.