November 4, 2009
European Union Treaty Clears Its Final Hurdle
International Herald Tribune
PRAGUE The Czech president, Vaclav Klaus, signed the landmark Lisbon Treaty on Tuesday, making his country the last of the 27 European Union countries to approve it and allowing its unifying, strengthening measures to go into force shortly across the bloc of half a billion people.
Mr. Klaus signed the treaty just hours after a Czech court concluded that the document was compatible with the country’s Constitution.
The signing raises the prospect of an empowered Europe with an enhanced global stature. The treaty, which may go into effect as early as Dec. 1, creates a permanent presidential post and sets up a more powerful foreign policy chief supported by a network of diplomats around the world. It seeks to make an increasingly unwieldy bloc more workable by putting in place a new voting system, which reflects countries’ population size, while reducing the number of areas where one country alone can block a proposal. It also gives more power to the directly elected European Parliament.
The rulebook the treaty replaces was out of date, created before the bloc began to expand broadly across Europe; it has taken in 12 new nations since 2004.
Some leaders, including President Nicolas Sarkozy of France, insisted there could be no significant further enlargement of the European Union without the Lisbon Treaty in effect.
But there have been persistent fears that the treaty would erode national sovereignty and turn Brussels into the capital of a monolithic superstate.
Fredrik Reinfeldt, prime minister of Sweden, which holds the current European presidency, which rotates among member countries, welcomed the treaty’s final approval.
”I am very please President Klaus today has signed the Lisbon Treaty,” he said in a statement, adding that the signature marks the end of a period which has lasted ”far too long” in which the bloc had focused on reforming its internal workings.
”Europe can now move forward,” added Joseph Daul, leader of the dominant center-right group in the European Parliament. ”The treaty will allow effective European action in areas where solutions are urgent, such as the financial and economic crisis, climate change and energy,” he said.
The signing was a remarkable about-face for Mr. Klaus, a vociferous opponent of the document and of the European Union itself. He had previously warned that the treaty would undermine Czech national interests and had refused to sign it, despite the endorsement of both houses of the Czech Parliament.
Making little effort to hide his contempt for the treaty, Mr. Klaus said Tuesday that he had decided to sign out of respect for the decision of the country’s Constitutional Court, but that he could not ”agree with its contents, because once the Lisbon Treaty will come into effect the Czech Republic will cease to be a sovereign state.”
The Constitutional Court was asked to rule by a group of 17 senators loyal to Mr. Klaus on whether the treaty violated the Czech Republic’s Constitution. The court, which dismissed a similar complaint last year, dismissed the new challenge on Tuesday morning.
After weeks of equivocating, Mr. Klaus, according to analysts and people close to him, concluded that failing to sign would isolate his country. They said another crucial element in his decision was that European leaders agreed to his last-minute demand to give the Czech Republic an effective exemption from the treaty’s Charter of Fundamental Rights, which he had argued could lead to a flood of property claims by Germans expelled from the country after World War II.
Because of the Czech delays, European leaders have been unable to settle on who would be president and foreign affairs chief.
The decisions will now shift to a special summit meeting expected be called sometime this month. Mr. Reinfeldt said he would begin discussions immediately on filling the jobs and would call a summit ”as soon as possible.”
Unofficial discussions in Brussels last week indicated that the prospect of the presidential job going to Tony Blair, the former British prime minister once considered a front runner, had faded.
Several lower-profile figures appeared to be likely contenders, including the prime ministers of Belgium and the Netherlands, Herman Van Rompuy and Jan Peter Balkenende; and the former Austrian prime minister, Wolfgang Schüssel. Prime Minister François Fillon of France has also been mentioned.
For the foreign policy post, most officials now expect a candidate from the center-left: the British foreign secretary, David Miliband, or perhaps the former Italian prime minister, Massimo D’Alema. A French candidate could also emerge. Meanwhile, the Conservative opposition leader in Britain, David Cameron, is expected to clarify Wednesday what his policy will be if he is elected next year and the Lisbon Treaty is already in force.
Mr. Cameron, who is ahead in the opinion polls, had promised a referendum on the accord but has not specified what he would do if he becomes prime minister when the treaty is already in place.
In many respects the treaty is a scaled down version of the draft European Union constitution, which took years to negotiate but was rejected by voters in France and the Netherlands in 2005, plunging the bloc into a political crisis.
Only one European Union nation, Ireland, held a referendum on the Lisbon Treaty. Though Ireland originally rejected the accord in 2008, it passed in a second vote last month, opening the way for the remaining nations to complete ratification.
Because of the huge political obstacles that the Lisbon Treaty has had to overcome, most analysts believe it will be the last attempt to overhaul the European Union’s ground rules for many years to come.
Dan Bilefsky reported from Prague and Stephen Castle from Brussels.