Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Don't bet on Klaus caving in

The consensus out there (FT Blog, Daily Telegraph, the very interesting Seifert/Litobarski podcast, Centre for European Reform) seems to be that Czech president Václav Klaus will cave in to pressure from all quarters and complete his country's ratification of the Lisbon Treaty ahead of a general election in the UK. The election is likely to put a Conservative government into office that is deeply hostile to the treaty and has promised to hold a referendum in the UK if it has not been fully ratified.

Klaus is the last hope of the anti-Lisbon community, now that the Irish have voted Yes. But all over Europe, people are interpreting his latest pronouncement on the subject as doom for the No camp. Here it is:
"I am afraid that the British people should have been doing something really much earlier. There will never be another referendum in Europe"

Now in my book, that is pretty Delphic at best. He pointedly did NOT say that he was going to sign off on the treaty. He made a tangental allusion to a possible referendum "in Europe". Quite apart from the fact that many Brits don't consider themselves to be in "Europe" at all, this is not a clear or robust statement by any means. And don't forget that there is a court case ongoing in his country that could potentially put paid to the whole thing without his intervention. My own reading of this oracle is that he'd love to kill the treaty off himself before the UK election, so that there would be no need for a referendum.

I am no great Klaus expert, but everything I have read points to him being both a consummate maverick and a "troublemaker", always keen to be controversial. He loves the limelight.

Take my advice. Don't go out to the betting shop and put any money on Klaus signing before the Conservatives win the UK election next year. At the very least, he'll want to keep us on tenterhooks.


Joe Litobarski said...

Hi, Insideur!

Glad you listened to the podcast!

I'm pretty optimistic about Klaus signing. I'm not an expert on Czech constitutional law, but the Czech constitutional court has promised to rule on the treaty very soon, and they are expected to approve it. Assuming they do, then Klaus will probably sign. His position as president does not allow him (as far as I'm aware) to endlessly delay adding his signature to treaties approved by both parliament and the Czech constitutional court.

If he tried to delay until the next British general election (which is probably seven or eight months away) the pressure would steadily build up, both from the Czech parliament and from the EU. It's dangerous to make predictions in politics: but I think he will have signed within a month, and definitely before 2010.

Of course, Lisbon is supposed to come into force January 2010, so if he did hold out until then, that would be interesting.


Insideur said...

Hi Joe, the podcast was great. I tried to leave a comment about it on your page, but something odd happened to the screen and I don't think it got sent. Keep going with that.

I learned something new about the Czech system today. Apparently the Czech President is elected indirectly - i.e. by parliament. This would seem to be quite different from being elected directly the people. If he is elected by parliament, and parliament has expressed its wish to ratify the treaty, it does seem to make it harder for him to defy the will of the institution from which his mandate flows.

I have read an English translation of the Czech constitution. Article 63 deals with some of the President's powers. It says that he is responsible for negotiating international treaties, but he may delegate this to the government. He is also responsible for ratifying them. It does not go into any detail on his ability to delay ratification. Indeed, paragrap 4 implies that it's not really his job to be in charge of this. The translation on the Czech government web site says. "Responsibility for a decision made by the President of the Republic, which must be countersigned by the Prime Minister or a member of the Government authorized by him, shall be borne by the Government."

This does suggest that his role is really to execute the government's wishes, since he is not responsible for the outcome.

We shal see; I am really not convinced that he will lay down meekly.