Czech court clears way for parliament to ratify Lisbon Treaty
THE CZECH Republic's constitutional court has cleared the way for the country's parliament to ratify the Lisbon Treaty, a process that could leave Ireland as the only European Union member to reject the reform treaty.
But after the court ruled that the treaty did not contradict the country's constitution, Czech president Vaclav Klaus reiterated his opposition to the document and warned that it would face further political and even legal challenges.
"It is good news for us and for all of Europe," Czech foreign minister Karel Schwarzenberg said of the court's verdict.
"Despite the delay that occurred, all doubts raised by the Senate were dispelled, the Lisbon Treaty is not in conflict with the constitutional order, and let us be grateful for this certainty."
The treaty, among other things, would endow the EU with a full-time president, strengthen its foreign-policy chief, give more power to the European Parliament and streamline decision-making.
Critics, including Mr Klaus, argue the treaty would undermine the sovereignty of member-states, transfer important powers from national governments to Brussels, and pave the way for the EU to become a quasi-state with little accountability to its citizens.
The court's 15 judges ruled unanimously that the transfer of powers from Prague to Brussels entailed in the treaty would not "violate the very essence of the (Czech) republic as a democratic state" and would not allow the EU to "change its powers at will . . . independently of its members."
Mr Klaus, who presented his case to the court on Tuesday, complained that its "verdict and reasoning . . . (were) written long before the hearing" and that the judges had shifted the matter "from a legal to a political level." "But this shift to a political level opens the way for a serious political debate in our country in the upcoming period," he said.
"I expect a group of MPs or senators to raise these arguments again, but above all to raise new arguments (against the treaty)," he said.
The Czech Republic is the only EU country that has not yet put the treaty to a parliamentary or public vote. It has been ratified by 23 states - it still awaits presidential signatures in Germany and Poland, and the Irish decision.
The treaty is not certain to secure the required three-fifths majority in both houses of the finely balanced Czech parliament.
If it does - if and when Ireland also approves the treaty - Mr Klaus has pledged to sign it into law.
Last night, the Taoiseach Brian Cowen said the court decision meant that Irelands position amongst its European partners is becoming more solitary by the day.
A transcript of the Czech constitutional court's verdict is available at irishtimes.com/indepth