The Lisbon Treaty brigade will still have to wait until the fat (Czech) lady sings — and watch out if David Cameron becomes Prime Minister.
In a contest watched closely in Europe but largely ignored in America, the Irish voted on Friday to approve the Lisbon Treaty. The European establishment is celebrating what is supposed to become a stronger European Union.
But the fat (Czech) lady has yet to sing.
Five years ago members of the EU advanced a continental constitution to create a consolidated government in Brussels, with a president and foreign minister, increased “competencies,” or responsibilities, for the EU, and fewer national vetoes over other issues. But in 2005 the Dutch and French peoples voted no.
After that democratic debacle, the Eurocratic elite wheeled out a slightly revised contitution in the form of a treaty requiring only parliamentary approval. Although polls indicated that majorities in every EU member desired to vote on the treaty, only Ireland (by its constitution) required a popular ballot. In June 2008 the Irish shocked the European establishment by rejecting the accord.
The EU elite reacted predictably by closing ranks and scheming to overturn the popular will. The point is not that it is necessarily wrong to create something closer to a European nation state. (Personally, I believe Europeans are risking their liberties for little practical benefit, but it is their decision to make.) However, as Larry Siedentop, author of Democracy in Europe, notes: “the EU seems blind to a central insight of liberal democratic thought — that the means of reaching public decisions are just as important as the ends.”
Last month European Commission president Jose Manuel Barroso claimed “We respect the vote of the Irish people,” but if so he was the only person in Brussels to do so. Some Eurocrats proposed to toss Dublin out of the EU or at least consign it to second-class status. Most demanded that the Irish vote again — and get it right this time.
The anger over the democratic process was palpable: How dare the Irish thwart the will of 500 million Europeans, not that any of the other 495 million had been allowed to express that will at the polls? Declan Ganley, head of the group Libertas, wrote: “we Irish behaved badly, and were therefore required as a matter of course to vote again. Nearly every EU leader agrees with this. Their own people must not vote, but the Irish must vote twice.”
So the Irish held another referendum on October 2. Treaty advocates played on concern over the economy — Ireland was hit particularly hard by the financial collapse — claiming that another no vote would somehow distance Ireland from the continent. Yet France and the Netherlands faced no such punishment after voting no four years ago. In fact, Lisbon is irrelevant to European economic cooperation.
The other EU members also promised future (and unenforceable) treaty changes to address Irish concerns. Moreover, the Irish government, EU officials, and politically oriented businesses ran a concerted and well-funded pro-campaign against a weakened opposition. The result was a solid yes.
That would seem to resolve the issue. Except for one person: Czech President Vaclav Klaus.
Both Klaus and Polish President Lech Kaczynski held off signing the treaties, a necessary constitutional step after parliamentary ratification. Notes Jan Techau of the German Council of Foreign Relations, the two “are lone riders who are not easily influenced by external factors.” Kaczynski promised to sign if the Irish said no. Klaus, a confirmed skeptic of consolidating power in Brussels, did not.
The latter’s refusal has led to a myriad of threats from Czech and EU treaty advocates. French President Nicolas Sarkozy declared that “It will be necessary to draw the consequences,” whatever that means, from continued Czech resistance.
But the independent Klaus, who spent years resisting Czechoslovakia’s communist government, seems unlikely to cave. In fact, Czech politicians are uncomfortable pressing him. Explains Stefan Fule, the Czech Minister for European Affairs: “The government prefers negotiation and we will continue negotiating with Mr. President.”
Moreover, Klaus now has a strong justification for holding back. Seventeen Czech senators have challenged the Lisbon Treaty before the nation’s constitutional court.
Most observers expect a positive verdict. Earlier this year the court upheld the treaty in a similar challenge. But the ruling could take months. And it is possible that the Czech court will follow its German counterpart in requiring the parliament to make legal changes in the treaty’s application to satisfy the constitution. That process would add more time.
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