Czechs pose new threat to troubled EU treaty
Sunday, 22 June 2008

BRUSSELS, Fri Jun 20, ( - The Czech Republic posed a new danger on Friday to the European Union's troubled reform treaty, threatening to block a joint call at an EU summit for continued ratification despite Ireland's "No" vote, diplomats said.

EU leaders were set to agree on a review in October of the impasse caused by Ireland's referendum rejection of the EU reform treaty, a draft final summit statement obtained by Reuters showed.

But owing to Czech opposition, the draft stopped short of explicitly urging other countries to continue ratifying the Lisbon treaty, saying only: "The European Council noted that 19 member states have ratified the treaty and that the ratification process continues in other countries."

The Irish vote eight days ago threw the 27-member EU into disarray, since ratification requires unanimity, and raised questions about plans for further enlargement of the bloc.

"The European Council agreed that more time was needed to analyze the situation" and accepted Dublin's suggestion to return to the issue at its next regular summit in October, the draft statement added.

However, a European Commission official said: "It looks bad if we can't even agree to call for ratification to continue. It looks like contagion."

Different shades of opinion emerged within the Czech government's own position as Czech Foreign Minister Karel Schwarzenberg, an independent backed by pro-EU forces, said he still thought his country would endorse the text by year-end.

But the Czech Senate has stalled its ratification to await a constitutional court ruling and Prime Minister Mirek Topolanek -- seen as less keen on the treaty -- said on Thursday: "If the vote was today, I would not bet 100 crowns on the outcome."

German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Slovenian Prime Minister Janez Jansa, who is chairing the summit, had breakfast with Topolanek to seek a solution.

Many countries were keen to add a firmer commitment to ratification to counter any impression the treaty is dead.

Delays in the Czech Republic and Poland have cast further doubt on its fate, but Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk said his country was no longer a trouble-maker in Europe.


French President Nicolas Sarkozy told a midnight news conference after the first day of the summit: "There is particular difficulty with our Czech friends. I hope we will be able to lift it by tomorrow morning."

He said all sides wanted to confine the problem to Ireland.

The treaty would give EU leaders a long-term president, a stronger foreign policy chief with a real diplomatic service, a more democratic decision-making system and more say for the European and national parliaments.

Sarkozy insisted that without the Lisbon treaty, meant to overhaul the EU's creaking institutions, there could be no further enlargement of the Union -- a view contradicted by Slovenian Prime Minister Janez Jansa, who chaired the summit.

Options mooted to resolve the crisis have included offering assurances to the Irish that the Lisbon Treaty will not undermine their cherished neutrality, deprive them of a commissioner in Brussels, make abortions easier or raise taxes -- and then asking them to vote again, as happened once before over an earlier EU treaty.

Irish Foreign Minister Micheal Martin sought to dampen expectations of an early solution to reverse his country's vote.

"That Council in October is an opportunity to make a progress report, but we would not anticipate that there would be solutions on the table in October," he told reporters.

Sarkozy, who takes on the bloc's rotating presidency from July 1, said he would visit Ireland next month to try to come up with a way forward.

Determined to show voters the EU is not paralyzed and is addressing citizens' key concerns, the bloc's leaders will ask the European Commission to study the feasibility of tax measures to ease the pain of soaring oil prices and report back in October, the draft summit statement showed.

"The European Council invites the Commission to examine the feasibility of taxation measures to smooth the impact of sudden oil price increases and report before the October European Council (summit)," the draft said.

It underlined that distortionary fiscal and policy interventions should be avoided as they prevent necessary adjustment to higher energy prices by businesses and consumers.

EU officials stressed that agreement to study proposals such as Sarkozy's idea of capping value-added tax on fuel or an Austrian call for a tax on commodity speculation did not mean they would recommend the measures widely criticized by others.

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