After Irish vote on Lisbon Treaty, EU looks anxiously to Czech president, British Conservatives

China View (Link) - Paul Ames (October 7, 2009)

Ireland's vote to approve the European Union's Lisbon Treaty has left the future of the EU in the hands of an odd couple.

One is a thrusting young British politician raised in riches and educated at one of the world's most exclusive schools. The other is a castle-dwelling former banker who thinks global warming is a myth invented by leftists plotting to take over the world.

David Cameron, an alumni of England's ultra-posh Eton Collage, is the leader of Britain's opposition Conservative Party, which wants to overturn Britain's approval of the treaty if, as is widely expected, it topples the Labor government in next year's general election.

The climate-change-denier is Czech President Vaclav Klaus, who has steadfastly refused to sign the Lisbon Treaty despite his parliament's vote in favor of the blueprint for reforming the way the EU does business.

This unlikely duo is the reason why celebrations were muted in the corridors of power at EU headquarters in Brussels last week when Irish voters approved the Lisbon Treaty in a second referendum.

If Klaus and Cameron succeed in sinking the treaty, the EU could be plunged into a profound crisis that would freeze hopes of further expanding the bloc's membership, severely weaken Europe's voice in world affairs and cast doubt upon the continued existence of the EU in its current form.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy has long said that the EU membership aspirations of Turkey, Ukraine and the countries of the western Balkans will go nowhere unless the Lisbon Treaty comes into force.

EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana, in uncharacteristically blunt language, called the latest attempt by Klaus' supporters to scuttle the treaty "absurd" and "irresponsible."

Continued uncertainty over the EU's rule book would cripple the bloc's ability to tackle climate change, the economic crisis and other world problems, Solana told reporters in Sweden last week.

If the treaty is scuttled, France, Germany and other core members of the EU could be expected to push on with closer integration in some form that excludes less integration-minded nations.

The Lisbon Treaty was signed by the governments of all 27 EU member countries in the Portuguese capital in December 2007 after years of painstaking negotiations. It aims to streamline EU decision-making processes which were designed for a smaller union and have become cumbersome and inefficient following the entry of new members.

It also creates high-profile new posts designed to boost the EU's global standing.

In 26 of the 27 EU member countries, national parliaments have voted to approve the text.

Ireland, the only country to hold a referendum, at first rejected the treaty in June 2008. After the Irish were given guarantees that the treaty would not undermine the republic's cherished neutrality, force it to raise taxes or oblige the staunchly Catholic nation to legalize abortion, voters approved the treaty in a second referendum on Oct. 2.

Dublin's decision meant the Czech Republic and Poland are the only countries yet to ratify the treaty.

Polish President Lech Kaczynski shares his Czech counterpart's aversion to European integration, but has said he would relent and sign the treaty following the Irish "yes." The Polish parliament has already voted in favor of the treaty.

Under the Czech constitution, Klaus cannot stall the treaty indefinitely in defiance of the parliament. The fear in Brussels is that he can hold it up until after the British elections, which must be held before June 3, 2010.

If the Conservatives come into power before the treaty takes effect, they could reopen Britain's ratification process, reversing the decision of the British parliament in favour of the treaty and calling a referendum that could see the Euro-sceptic public voting down the reform plan.

If the Czech Republic approves the treaty and it is already in force by the time he comes into power, Cameron has hinted that he would not seek to overturn it, despite the demands of Europhobes in his party.

They see the treaty as a threat to British sovereignty. Some believe Britain should leave the EU, arguing its nuclear arms, UN Security Council seat and role as a financial center mean that it could carve out a global role for itself independent of Europe.

In comments since the Irish vote, Klaus has suggested it may be too late for the Conservatives to rely on him to help them submarine the treaty.

Privately, Cameron might prefer to have the Czech Republic ratify the treaty so that his first months in office are not dominated by a divisive debate on Europe and a referendum campaignthat would distract attention from his domestic agenda.

The Conservatives have already fired the first salvoes in a post-Lisbon European battle to makes sure Tony Blair does not become president of the reformed EU.

Under the treaty, the bloc will create a potentially powerful new position of president of the EU council, who will represent the bloc at international gatherings, coordinate policy and chair summit gatherings of European leaders.

One of the favorites to get the job is Blair, the British former prime minister whose modernization of the Labour Party banished the Tories to the opposition since 1997. Conservative politicians have been quick to launch a "stop Blair" campaign.

The treaty will also give the EU a new foreign policy representative with wide new powers, sparking a fresh round of speculation over who could take that position.

EU leaders could make decisions on the key appointments at their summit at the end of October, if doubts over the treaty are cleared up. However, if Klaus continues to prevaricate, the EU could find itself in limbo into the new year with tensions mounting as the British election draws nearer.