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What to do about Klaus?

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Ireland will probably ratify the Lisbon treaty this week. EU leaders are counting on the treaty coming into effect starting next year. Attention is now shifting to the Czech Republic and to Václav Klaus. Unlike other opponents of the treaty, the Czech president has not made public under what conditions he would be willing to sign the document. In other words, we are entering the last stage of the battle between Klaus and the rest of Europe. The reputation of the Czech Republic is at stake.

There are various approaches to getting your way. You can do this through open confrontation, trying to win the argument between you and your opponents. You can try to gain strong allies and public support. Those are the standard ways of resolving conflicts upon which the principles of Greek democracy were founded. But Klaus is not a fan of standard procedures and so he has chosen the tactic of passive resistance. By remaining inactive and creating obstructions, he is only prolonging the dispute and hoping that his tired opponents will eventually give up.

We are now watching this live. The president is making use of the vague language of the constitution, according to which there is no time restriction on when he must sign a document approved by the cabinet and by the parliament. The Lisbon Treaty has all the other necessary signatures and it has been approved by the Constitutional Court. But Klaus is waiting for a group of eurosceptic senators, under the leadership of Jiří Oberfalzer, to send the treaty to the Constitutional Court for round two. But the senators say they’re still waiting to receive all the necessary documents form their lawyers.

And yet, there is no chance that the Constitutional Court would change its mind and rule that the constitution is not in line with Czech laws. It’s only a delay tactic, whose aim is to keep the rest of the Czech Republic and the EU in uncertainty, with the hope that something – for instance that the Irish might vote “no”, even though opinion polls suggest otherwise – will sink the treaty.

But according to media reports, the message from Brussels is that the Czech Republic should sort out this presidential sabotage. Czech leaders are choosing their words carefully: They want to negotiate with the president and appeal to his reason. By boycotting the treaty, the Czech Republic would move itself to the periphery of the EU and lose its allies, which would reduce the Czechs’ ability to influence anything in the EU to nothing.

It’s also possible, as information from behind the scenes suggests, that even stronger pressure tactics could be used against the president.

There are several options: The threat to cut down the budget of the Prague Castle, to limit the president’s trips abroad or even to file a case with the Supreme Administrative Court. The case could be built around Klaus’s putting off signing an addendum to the treaty about Europe’s social charter, which Klaus has been sitting out on for the last four years now.

Based on past conflicts that Klaus was involved in, we know that if there is anything he is afraid of, it is losing his presidential post. When he blocked the activities of the Constitutional Court five years ago by postponing nominating candidates for judges, he eventually gave in after being threatened with treason. If a court finds a president guilty of treason, the president must give up his post.

ČSSD senator Alena Gajdůšková mentioned the possibility of charges of treason in connection with the Lisbon Treaty last year. No politician seems to be considering this option now to force Klaus to sign. The case against Klaus could be his boycott of the Lisbon Treaty, which goes against the will of both chambers of parliament. We can’t rule out that such a case against Klaus won’t be made.

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