THE EUPHORIA that sprang from Ireland like leprechauns in spring after its citizens approved the Lisbon Treaty did not extend as far as Prague, where Czech President Václav Klaus has hesitated to sign the treaty. Two weeks after the Irish ‘yes’ vote, the Slovak prime minister has now also surprised European leaders by saying that he too may have a problem with the treaty – despite the fact that it has already been ratified.
While the Czech Constitutional Court is examining whether the Lisbon Treaty is in accordance with the Czech Constitution, Klaus came up with his own suggestions for changes in the treaty. In a statement released on October 9, he claimed that the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union, which constitutes an integral part of the treaty, might make it possible for the European Court of Justice to bypass Czech courts and to consider property claims made by Germans who were expelled from the Sudetenland after WWII. Klaus stated he will insist on a treaty exemption which will guarantee that the Lisbon Treaty will not lead to a breach of the legality of the so-called Beneš Decrees in the Czech Republic.
The Beneš Decrees are documents signed during World War II by the Czechoslovak president-in-exile, Edvard Beneš, which dealt also with post-war circumstances and led to the subsequent expulsion of German and Hungarian residents from Czechoslovakia. Their land was later confiscated.
On October 18 Slovak Prime Minister Robert Fico said on Czech Television that if the Czech Republic received the exemption Klaus is proposing it would leave Slovakia in a very awkward position.
“If the Czech Republic negotiates that the Lisbon Treaty [...] doesn’t open the question of the Beneš Decrees, Slovakia cannot be left completely alone,” he said, adding that otherwise it would be possible to question the validity of the decrees in Slovakia.
In his video commentary Fico said Slovakia agrees with the European Union lawyers who in their analysis have absolutely rejected the possibility that the treaty could have such an effect, but he said that Slovakia must act now that the Czech Republic has opened the issue. According to Fico, there are two possibilities: either the exemption requested by the Czech will be extended also to Slovakia or Slovakia will veto the exemption.
However, Slovak Foreign Affairs Minister Miroslav Lajčák does not see the latter as an option. He said that a situation where Slovakia would need to block the Czech request will not occur, the SITA newswire reported.
The Foreign Affairs Ministry released an official statement saying that Slovakia is one of the descendants of Czechoslovakia and therefore the Beneš Decrees are part of the country’s legislative system.
“Therefore we must insist that in the event there is any mention of the Beneš Decrees and the Czech Republic in the Lisbon Treaty – in any form – the Slovak Republic should also be mentioned, since the Lisbon Treaty cannot give two differing legal certainties to two successor states on one issue,” the ministry wrote.
In line with that, Czech Prime Minister Jan Fischer said that he believes his government will agree on the text of an opt-out from the Lisbon Treaty that will satisfy Slovakia as well, the ČTK newswire wrote.
The opposition immediately criticised Prime Minister Fico’s statements. Mikuláš Dzurinda, the leader of the Slovak Democratic and Christian Union (SDKÚ) said that the whole affair is only a bubble designed to give cover to cases of corruption surrounding the governing coalition, SITA reported.
Ján Figeľ, the former Slovak representative to the European Commission (EC) and presently the leader of the opposition Christian-Democratic Movement (KDH) party, said that the EC has dealt with the compatibility of the Beneš Decrees with European law and has not found any incompatibilities – either with the Lisbon Treaty or with the previous treaties.
EC President José Manuel Barroso said he was confident that the Lisbon Treaty will be ratified shortly, despite Slovakia’s present stance on the issue.
“All the countries of the EU have now approved the Lisbon Treaty, either by referendum such as in Ireland or by parliament in all the others,” Barroso said on October 19, as quoted by the EU Observer. “Now we have to complete the procedures of ratification and I’m sure that will be done relatively soon. I’m very confident.”
Meanwhile, the Czech government is trying to find the fastest way to finalise its ratification process. According to ČTK the government is ready to bring the issue to the Constitutional Court in an emergency situation and to provoke a court dispute with Klaus over division of governmental powers if necessary. A representative of the Czech cabinet may announce this at the EU summit in late October which is expected to discuss Klaus’s demand for the Czech exemption.