Klaus welcomes Swedish proposal on treaty stand-off

 

EUROSCEPTIC CZECH President Vaclav Klaus has welcomed a proposal by the EU presidency aimed at resolving a standoff over his refusal to sign the Lisbon Treaty.

The proposal tabled by Sweden increases the chances of the treaty entering into force by the end of the year despite concerns raised by Slovakia about the compromise.

This would see EU leaders agreeing a declaration at next week’s EU summit to offer an opt-out from the charter of fundamental rights, which is a bill of rights made legally binding via the Lisbon Treaty.

The opt-out is aimed at shielding the Czech Republic from property claims from ethnic Germans who were expelled after the second World War, although it can only be made legally binding when Croatia joins the union.

“The president . . . received the Swedish presidency’s proposal which is a response to his request related to the Lisbon Treaty ratification in the Czech Republic,” Mr Klaus’ presidential office said in a statement yesterday.

“This proposal corresponds to what the president has envisioned and it is possible to work with it further,” it added.

The Czech Republic is the last EU state to ratify the treaty following the completion of Irish ratification.

Minister for European Affairs Dick Roche travelled to Rome yesterday to deposit the instruments of ratification with the Italian government – a formality that all governments must complete before Lisbon can enter into force.

“This is a moment of both national and personal pride,” said Mr Roche. “For Ireland, this event closes a process which began in December 2000 with a declaration by the European Council on the future of the European Union.”

The Swedish proposal follows closely the guarantee model agreed by EU leaders to satisfy Irish concerns about the treaty raised.

This involves a two-stage process whereby leaders agree a declaration offering guarantees on certain parts of the treaty. These political guarantees can then be written into the EU treaties at a later date when all EU states have to ratify the next accession treaty to enable another state, most likely Croatia or Iceland, to join the Union.

A potential obstacle to achieving a deal next week is a concern raised by Slovakia over granting the Czech Republic an opt-out from the charter in relation to land seized from ethnic Germans under the so called Benes decrees after the war. Slovak prime minister Robert Fico has said his government may ask for a similar concession if their former federation partners in the former Czechoslovakia manage to get an opt-out.

“We will not leave Slovakia in uncertainty if we feel that one of the seceding countries of former Czechoslovakia has negotiated an exception,” he said last week.

Slovakia’s state secretary for foreign affairs Diana Strofova repeated these concerns in an address to parliament on Thursday. “We are convinced that if the Czech request should be taken into consideration, a certain disproportion in legal status for Slovak citizens would occur. That’s why it is necessary for us to monitor the situation and eventually balance out this disproportion,” she told Slovak MPs.

EU officials suggest a solution to Slovakia’s concerns can be found at the EU summit to provide more clarity about the entry into force of the Lisbon Treaty.

A successful deal at the summit may enable European Commission president José Manuel Barroso to call on member states formally to nominate their proposed candidates for the commission.

However, this may depend on the outcome of a court challenge to the Lisbon Treaty in the Czech Republic. A ruling could be made as early as next Tuesday in this case.