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Czech president swallows bitter pill

Gavin Hewitt | 16:21 UK time, Tuesday, 3 November 2009


There was no fanfare, no announcement beforehand. The euro-sceptic Czech president just went ahead and signed a treaty he dislikes intensely. Some had hoped he would hold out longer but his options had gone. He had won a concession to opt out from the charter of fundamental rights but in exchange he had agreed to sign. The last legal hurdle was overcome this morning when the Czech constitutional court ruled the treaty did not violate the Czech constitution.

So ends an eight-year journey. The treaty started life as a constitution but it was rejected by the French and Dutch. It was re-born as a treaty although it was largely the same document. It had been shorn of some references that implied Europe was growing closer to being a federal state.

The British goverment, who promised the people a vote, changed its mind. The treaty was described as a technical change that did not require a referendum. All the indications were that the British people wanted their say and most likely would have rejected the treaty.

The Irish were the last to vote a few weeks ago. They had earlier voted 'no' but fears about the economy persuaded them to change their minds.

Events will now move fast. There will be an emergency summit possibly next week to chose a President of the European Council and a High Representative for foreign affairs.
With the treaty signed Tony Blair will have to decide whether he is a candidate for President and whether he'll lobby Angela Merkel and Nicolas Sarkozy, the power brokers.
If he fails then speculation will re-surface that the current British foreign secretary David Miliband may get the foreign affairs post.

Britain's opposition Tories will now have to say whether they are committed to a referendum now the treaty has been signed. All the signs are that they'll back away from a vote but try and re-negotiate, to claim some powers back from Brussels


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