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Will Czechs disappoint Tories?

Gavin Hewitt | 19:10 UK time, Saturday, 3 October 2009

Czech President Vaclav Klaus (left) at anti-Lisbon rally in Prague, 3 Oct 09Dublin: The fickle eye of the camera moves away fast. Within hours of it being apparent that Ireland had delivered a convincing "Yes" attention turned towards the Czech Republic. It was almost as if having delivered their vote, Ireland no longer mattered. And for the Tories the Czech president may prove an uncertain ally.

The Czech parliament has approved the Lisbon Treaty, but the Eurosceptic President Vaclav Klaus has refused to sign. A group of senators close to him have filed a complaint with the Czech Constitutional Court that the treaty lays the foundation for a superstate and so violates Czech laws. Some say the court will deliver its ruling in three
weeks. In that event it would be difficult for the president to resist putting his signature to the document. However, the court may take longer to decide, perhaps months.

And that is the fear that stalks the political corridors of much of Europe. Because in about eight months the British will hold an election. If David Cameron wins, and if
there is still a country in Europe that has not ratified the treaty, then he will hold a referendum. Indeed, the date will be revealed during the election campaign. David Cameron pledged again today to "keep fighting" against the treaty. It is presumed in Brussels that the UK would vote "No" and the Lisbon Treaty would be dead.

But the Czech president today sent a message that in a sense was telling the Tories not to depend on a Czech delay. He said that after today's referendum "there will never be another referendum in Europe". He was then asked whether he had a message for Britain. "I am afraid," he replied, "that the people of Britain should have been doing something really much earlier and not just now, too late, saying something and waiting for my decision".

That sounds like a politician who knows he'll be signing soon. We shall see. If his words are borne out it leaves David Cameron with an awkward question to answer. What will he do if all 27 countries have ratified the treaty? Some in his party, like the Bruges Group, want him to commit to a "retrospective referendum". Other politicians will call on him to accept the treaty as "a fact of life" or at least to come clear about where he stands.

He will not answer while the Czechs are still deciding, but that may not be for much longer.


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