Klaus sets new condition for ratifying Lisbon

 

CZECH PRESIDENT Vaclav Klaus says he will not sign the Lisbon Treaty unless Prague is given safeguards from claims for property that belonged to millions of ethnic Germans expelled after the second World War.

The Czech Republic will be the only remaining obstacle to the treaty if, as expected, Polish president Lech Kaczynski signs it over the weekend, but Mr Klaus continues to oppose a document that he believes will transfer too much power from national governments to Brussels.

Having already refused to sign it until the Czech constitutional court rules on a last-ditch query on its legality filed by his Eurosceptic allies, Mr Klaus suddenly announced on Thursday that he wanted a few lines to be added to the treaty before he put pen to paper – despite the fact that both houses of the Czech parliament have already approved it in its current form.

He revealed yesterday that he wanted an opt-out for the Czech Republic that would resemble those secured by Britain and Poland, granting them exemptions from some parts of a Charter of Fundamental Rights that will be become binding when the treaty takes effect.

Mr Klaus fears the treaty could expose Prague to restitution claims on property confiscated from more than three million Germans who were thrown out of Czechoslovakia after 1945, allowing claimants to bypass Czech courts and go straight to the European Court of Justice.

Mr Klaus said the Czech government that collapsed in March “didn’t pay sufficient attention to this question”.

“Before ratification, the Czech Republic must, additionally at least, negotiate a similar exemption,” he insisted, in reference to the opt-outs secured by Britain and Poland.

“In these two countries, the legislation set in the charter will still be governed by their own laws . . . I believe that this exemption can be resolved quickly.”

Poland’s opt-out helped soothe its own fears of German property claims and of being forced to change its conservative family laws, while Britain wanted to protect its labour legislation.

The potential legal complications of creating such an opt-out for the Czech Republic at this late stage mean Prague and Brussels may instead seek a declaration on the matter by EU leaders, similar to that secured by Ireland on issues including neutrality, taxation and abortion.

The Czech Republic could ask the EU’s 27 leaders to approve such a “political declaration” at a summit this month, and it could then be attached to the treaty without altering the main text.

Only the Czech government – and not Mr Klaus – could make such a request, however, and prime minister Jan Fischer admitted yesterday morning that the president had not given the cabinet any information about his latest gambit. After Mr Klaus announced his demands, Mr Fischer said he believed the treaty would not expose the Czech Republic to German property claims but pledged to “analyse” the president’s statement and reiterated his conviction that the treaty would be ratified by the end of the year. French foreign minister Bernard Kouchner has ruled out any change to the treaty to accommodate Mr Klaus. EU diplomats said only the Czech government and not Mr Klaus, could ask the EU’s 27 leaders to approve a so-called “political declaration” at a summit this month which could be attached to the treaty.

– (Additional reporting: Reuters)