Czech leader may present final barrier to ratification


ANALYSIS:Irish Yes vote paves the way for the Lisbon Treaty to enter into force – only Czech president Vaclav Klaus stands in the way, writes JAMIE SMYTH

IRELAND’S RESOUNDING Yes vote paves the way for a frenetic three months of diplomatic and political activity designed to enable the Lisbon Treaty to enter into force by January 1st.

It began as soon as the Irish result was announced when, in a carefully choreographed move, the presidents of all three big EU institutions urged Poland and the Czech Republic to complete the ratification process.

The Irish Yes has created optimism in Brussels that Lisbon will now enter into force, streamlining how the EU takes decisions and enabling it to present a more coherent foreign policy.

Work will begin immediately on implementing the reforms, even without Czech President Vaclav Klaus’s signature on the treaty.

On Tuesday, EU ambassadors in Brussels will begin talks to decide the precise role and make-up of the new European external action service. This new diplomatic service will be made up of EU officials and diplomats seconded from the 27 member states, although the method of recruitment has to be decided.

When Lisbon enters into force, it will merge the European Commission’s representations abroad with those of the Council of Ministers into a single unit.

It will work together with a new “double-hatted” high representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, who will sit on the European Commission and chair EU foreign affairs meetings to implement foreign policy.

By combining the commission’s expertise on humanitarian assistance and the council’s role in security and defence, it is hoped the EU can become a stronger actor in world affairs.

EU leaders are scheduled to appoint a new high representative at their summit meeting on October 30th. Front runners for the job include Finland’s nominee to the commission, Olli Rehn, and former British commissioner Chris Patten. Other names include French foreign minister Bernard Kouchner; Greek foreign minister Dora Bakoyannis and former foreign ministers in Germany and Austria Joschka Fischer and Ursula Plassnik.

Lisbon creates the new post of president of the European Council, which could become a powerful position in the hands of an energetic and activist politician. The treaty says that the president would chair council meetings, co-ordinate work and represent the EU internationally.

But EU states differ over how wide the mandate extends, with Sweden preferring a low-profile chairman of the council while France is pushing for a high-profile candidate, who can boost the union’s profile abroad.

Former British prime minister Tony Blair is the high-profile candidate whom London and Paris publicly support. However, German chancellor Angela Merkel is understood to be more circumspect about Blair as president but there are few rivals with any clout on the world stage.

Dutch prime minister Jan Peter Balkenende is a possible compromise candidate, while former Spanish prime minister Felipe Gonzalez and Luxembourg prime minister Jean-Claude Junker may also be in the frame.

Whether or not a name is chosen at the October 30th summit depends on the speed of the ratification process in the Czech Republic.

By October 15th, the Czech court is expected to decide whether the new appeal against the treaty is admissible.

Most diplomats say that it is unlikely a nomination will be made until EU leaders are sure Klaus is going to sign the treaty allowing it to enter into force. This could delay the appointment of the president, and possibly the high representative, until the next EU leaders’ summit in December.

One of the biggest complications caused by the delay to the ratification of Lisbon is the make-up of the commission.

Under the existing Nice Treaty, the number of commissioners must be reduced below the number of member states. But under Lisbon, EU leaders have agreed to invoke a clause enabling all EU states to retain the right to nominate a commissioner.

The commission’s mandate runs out on October 31st, by which time the Lisbon Treaty will not be in force. To get around this, EU leaders are likely to ask the team of commissioners to stay on in a caretaker capacity until January 1st when Lisbon is expected to come into force.

Nevertheless, member states are expected to begin formally nominating their candidates for the commission this week, even though they will probably not be in place till January 1st.

All the other big changes proposed in the treaty: the move of 60 new policy areas to qualified majority voting; more scrutiny powers for the European parliament; making the charter of fundamental rights legally binding and giving national parliaments power to scrutinise EU proposals should begin to take effect in the first six months of 2010 during Spain’s EU presidency, which will handle the transition to an EU under the Lisbon Treaty.

Of course, this all depends on Vaclav Klaus.