Mixed reactions to the Irish ‘No’

Institute of International Relations

The rejection of the Lisbon Treaty was received with mixed reactions in the Czech Republic. Critics of the treaty, such as President Václav Klaus and a faction of the Civic Democratic Party (ODS), were outspokenly satisfied with the outcome and argued that, since the treaty has been rejected, the ratification process in the Czech Republic should also be stopped.[1] Especially the Green Party, the Christian Democrats and the Social Democrats, on the other hand, called for a rapid continuation of the ratification process in the Czech Republic. The destiny of the treaty in the Czech Republic is yet unsure and has been put at standstill until the constitutional court expresses its opinion, which is expected in the fall.
The governing coalition, consisting of Civic Democrats, Greens and Christian Democrats (KDU-ČSL), has stated that the ratification process shall continue, but that it is necessary to wait for the opinion of the Czech constitutional court. Thus, the court is in a position where it could complicate the ratification of the treaty. The Irish ‘No’ seems in general to have also strengthened the position of the critics in the Czech Republic, who now have a new powerful argument. The treaty was put to referendum only in one member state, and there the outcome was negative, how then, can such a treaty be democratic?[2] It seems the treaty has sufficient support in the Chamber of Deputies the Czech parliament, but it was the Senate that required the constitutional court to express its opinion, and the Senate might block the ratification independent of the verdict of the court. Again, everything depends on how many senators from the Civic Democratic Party, in the end, will oppose the ratification. Since the Prime Minister, Mirek Topolánek, and the Minister for European Affairs, Alexander Vondra, are both Civic Democrats, it is very much a question of how well the ODS party leadership manages to convince the party’s backbenchers to support the treaty. The Deputy Prime Minister for European Affairs, Alexandr Vondra, argues that the rejection should not be understood as the end of the Lisbon Treaty but as a complication. However, and in opposition to the opposition, he argues that it does not make any sense to rush the ratification in the Czech Republic. He, as well as most observers, argues that it is not unlikely that the treaty can come into force as planned by the first of January 2009.[3]
The time schedule of the ratification process has achieved rather much attention since the Czech Council Presidency will take part during the first sixth months of 2009. Therefore, some leading politicians have expressed the opinion that a slight delay actually is welcomed since the presidency in that case will be a “full-worthy” presidency.[4] On the other hand, some analysts have argued that a delay can make the presidency more difficult because of the internal division in the government and in the Civic Democratic Party, which makes it hard for the country to act as a solution finder. Furthermore, if the Czech Republic fails to ratify the treaty, it could weaken the country’s negotiation capabilities.[5] Another opinion expressed, is that in the case the treaty still would come into force during the Czech Presidency, it would give the country influence over how the treaty will work in practice.[6]
It is expected that the Czech parliament will get the issue on its agenda again in the fall after the constitutional court has had its say in the matter. Several experts on the Czech constitution have argued that it is very unlikely that the court will find anything unconstitutional in the Lisbon Treaty.[7] The government has also expressed the opinion that the treaty is in agreement with the Czech constitution according to the court.[8]
It seems that the ratification of the treaty might also be linked to other domestic political issues. For instance, the leader of the Green Party, Martin Bursík, has suggested that the government would not survive a rejection of the Lisbon Treaty if caused by members of the Civic Democratic Party.[9] Prime Minister Topolánek, on the other hand, has indicated that support of the whole Civic Democratic faction for the Lisbon Treaty might be achieved if the treaty with the US regarding an antimissile radar base in the Czech Republic is approved by the parliament.[10] In the end, the upcoming presidency might help to push the ratification through in parliament. It is believed that if the Czech Republic fails to ratify the treaty before its presidency, it would diminish the country’s chance of having a successful presidency.[11]
The long-term consequences of the rejection have so far not been that much discussed by the political elite. Advocates of the treaty have mostly been hesitant in describing the current situation as a crisis and they still expect the treaty in the end to be ratified. The critics, with Václav Klaus as their most prominent figure, see the rejection as a possibility to re-open the negotiations on the treaty. They argue that there is no reason to treat the Irish reaction any differently compared to the earlier French and Dutch once. If one country has rejected the treaty this means that it is ”dead”.[12] Klaus would prefer a totally new treaty, given that he rejects any arrangement that enables a situation where one country can be outvoted by the others, although it is rather hard to see what sort of arrangement that would be.[13]

[1] Rozhovor prezidenta republiky pro deník Lidové noviny o irském odmítnutí Lisabonské smlouvy (Interview with the President of the [Czech] Republic about the Irish rejection of the Lisbon Treaty), available at: http://www.klaus.cz/klaus2/asp/clanek.asp?id=2rABZnIJhJcK (last access: 14 July 2008).

[2] Cf. Jan Zahradil: Irské NE platí. Smiřte se s tím (The Irish no counts. You have to accept it), available at: http://zpravy.ods.cz/prispevek.php?ID=6857 (last access: 14 July 2008).

[3] Alexandr Vondra: Irské ne není tragédie, jenom zádrhel (The Irish no is not a tragedy, only a complication), available at: http://zpravy.ods.cz/prispevek.php?ID=6840 (last access: 14 July 2008).

[4] Cf. Petr Gandalovič, available at: http://zpravy.ods.cz/prispevek.php?ID=6882 (last access: 14 July 2008).

[5] Cf. Jiří Pehe: České paradoxy irského ‘ne’ (Czech Paradoxes regarding the Irish ‘No’), available at:
http://www.rozhlas.cz/komentare/portal/_zprava/465808 (last access: 14 July 2008).

[6] Cf. Výhledy lisabonské smlouvy vidí čeští europoslanci dost odlišně (Czech members of the European parliament view the prospects of the Lisbon Treaty very differently), Czech News Agency, 20 April 2008.

[7] Eurosmlouva projde, tipují znalci (Eurot-treaty will be accepted bet experts), Hospodářské noviny, 30 June 2008.

[8] Lisabonská smlouva je v pořádku, píše vláda soudu (The Lisbon Treaty is acceptable, writes the government to the court), Hospodářské noviny, 27 June 2008.

[9] Bursík kritizoval Topolánka. Kvůli Lisabonské smlouvě (Bursík criticised Topolánek over the Lisbon Treaty), Hospodářské noviny, 13 July 2009.

[10] Mirek Topolánek: Bez radaru nemusí projít ani Lisabonská smlouva (Without the radar cannot the Lisbon Tretay be accepted), Hospodářské noviny, 9 July 2008.

[11] As argued for instance Deputy Prime Minister for European Affairs, Alexandr Vondra, see, e.g. Vondra: Bylo by dobré ratifikovat smlouvu před předsednictvím (Vondra: It would be good to ratify the treaty before the presidency), Hospodářské noviny, 26 June 2008.

[12] “Napíšu novou smlouvu unie” (I write a new Union treaty), Hospodářské noviny, 19 June 2008.

[13] Václav Klaus: Před debatou o euroústavě (Before the debate on the Euro-constitution), available at: http://www.klaus.cz/klaus2/asp/clanek.asp?id=jcGemB95dZjR (last access: 14 July 2008).