The Czech Republic began its EU Presidency term two weeks ago, and already it has had to engage in a complex and crucial diplomatic situation – the gas crisis. Now the Czech Republic must pass the base test to prove it is serious about the EU and gain the respect of Members States.
Ireland and the Czech Republic are the only countries that have not yet ratified the Lisbon Treaty (in Germany and Poland the respective President still has to formally sign off). This is the Treaty that defines tomorrow’s EU and lays down its fundamental institutional arrangements. It is through the Lisbon Treaty that most of the goals that the Czechs have fixed as priorities for their EU-presidency can be dealt with more efficiently – enlargement policies, a bolder neighborhood policy, climate strategies with a meatier role for the EU Commission, and the reshaping and strengthening of transatlantic relations after Obama’s election through enhancing Europe’s military capabilities (something the US is in favour of). To put it bluntly: With the Lisbon Treaty, the Czech Presidency comes closer to its own success. There is no point in Europe pushing the Irish if the Presidency itself lags behind.
Unfortunately, Prague has defaulted on genuine discussion concerning ratification of the Treaty. The Czech government announced in late December, after the Constitutional Court ruled the compatibility of the Lisbon Treaty with the Czech Constitution, that Parliament would approve ratification. But there has been no noise since. The reason for this is internal politics. October regional elections returned a difficult outcome for the running conservative ODS-party. Rumors say that Prague may engage in new elections once the EU-Presidency is over. President Vaclav Klaus is a difficult political hurdle to overcome for any serious discussions about the Lisbon Treaty in Prague as he campaigns so openly against Europe.
This is more than a shame. There will be no solid and convincing the Czech Presidency if it does not succeed in getting its ambitions for Europe right. After Slovenia, the Czech Republic is the second country from the East running an EU Presidency. This is important for the political culture of the EU after enlargement. Success is vital. Here is the chance for the Czech Republic to show-case itself as a highly efficient compromise-producer and solution-finder for Europe – but only if it can overcome its own Lisbon crisis and to bring Ireland back to the European path.
A solution to the ratification crisis in Spring 2009 is necessary as Europe is to undergo EP elections in June. It will be very difficult to organize the administration of these elections if it not clear which treaty – Nice or Lisbon – these elections should take place under. More importantly, it is impossible to expect interest and participation from European citizens if politicians in all countries and on all levels are not decided on which Treaty path Europe is to take.
The world is turmoil – the financial crisis, Iran, Afghanistan, the Israeli-Palestine-conflict. Europe must speak with one bold, strong and influential voice on the world’s international scene when shaping global economic and political solutions to these and any other emerging problems.
To do this the EU needs the Lisbon Treaty. For this reason the Czech Presidency will be judged on how it promotes the Lisbon Treaty – so at the very least the Czech Republic must ratify it. The Czechs will have no moral authority to run the EU if they are only half-hearted committed to it.
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