Klaus opting out
There is an element of farce creeping into the drama of the Czech Republic and the Lisbon Treaty. We now know what President Klaus's conditions are for signing the treaty - or rather I think we do.
To start with, he did not intend to reveal his hand today. He feels he was pushed into it. The Czech president is clearly irritated that, in his view, the Swedish prime minister disclosed a confidential conversation they had yesterday. It seems that President Klaus was going to wait until the Czech Constitutional Court had ruled before revealing his new conditions.
He has focused on the EU's Charter of Fundamental Rights, which is part of the Lisbon Treaty. It gives the European Court of Justice in Luxembourg the right to decide whether various laws comply with the charter. President Klaus feels Czech courts could be bypassed and that Germans expelled after World War II could, for example, make property claims supported by the Luxembourg court. So the president wants an opt-out.
"Before ratification, the Czech Republic must additionally at least negotiate a similar exemption" to that won by Britain and Poland, he said. (Britain and Poland both negotiated opt-outs.) President Klaus reckons that all this could be negotiated quickly.
The suggestion seems to be that this could be done at an EU summit later this month. But there's much that isn't clear. Does the Czech president have the power to negotiate such a clause? Some believe that rests only with the Czech government and, as of yesterday, they knew nothing about it. There are some, in the Czech Republic, who believe that it is the president himself who is exceeding his powers.
The attitude of other European countries is also uncertain. Some may be unwilling to make any concession. French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner, for one, has ruled out any changes. Other countries may be wary about making concessions to the Czech president.
The Czech Prime Minister, Jan Fischer, repeated today what he had said earlier in the week - that ratification could still be completed by the end of the year. But this has to be an opinion. He does not know what the constitutional court will decide and he certainly can't read President Klaus's mind.
It is wise to be very cautious. President Klaus made clear again today his objections to the Lisbon Treaty. "I have always considered this treaty a step in the wrong direction. It will deepen the problems the EU is facing today. It will increase its democratic deficit, worsen the standing of our country and expose it to new risks."
These are the words of a man who clearly loathes the treaty and until the moment he signs it there have to be doubts about his intentions.