Klaus Won’t Sign the Lisbon Treaty

October 6, 2009 • Commentary
This article appeared in Wall Street Journal Europe on October 6, 2009.

The Czech president will hold out until the Tories bury the EU’s power grab.

The Irish may have said Yes to the Lisbon Treaty, but the bureaucrats in Brussels have not yet won. If anything, the shameful browbeating of the Irish electorate into reversing its previous rejection of the Treaty will steel the resolve of those who oppose additional centralization of power in Brussels. Czech President Vaclav Klaus has so far refused to sign off on the Treaty that the Czech parliament has already adopted. The president is officially waiting for a decision from the highest Czech court on the treaty’s constitutionality. The opponents of the treaty in the Czech parliament hope to prolong the legal challenges until the British have had a chance to vote it down in a referendum that the Conservatives, who are set to win the next election, promised to hold midway through 2010.

European Union politicians like to lecture foreigners on the importance of democracy. Yet, the EU itself has entered a post‐​democratic age. Increasingly, it is run by unelected and unaccountable technocrats in Brussels who are disdainful of public opinion. In 2005, when French and Dutch voters defeated the proposed EU Constitution — which would have massively expanded the power of Brussels — the Eurocrats repackaged the Constitution as the Lisbon Treaty, which supposedly required no plebiscites.

The Irish constitution required a referendum, however, and the Irish rejected the Lisbon Treaty in June 2008. Seven years earlier, the Irish similarly rejected the Treaty of Nice, which also enhanced the power of Brussels. Back then, the Irish were made to vote again and, after months of taxpayer‐​funded government propaganda, they gave the answer Brussels wanted. The same sham was played out over the last few months and, once again, Brussels got its way.

But, Lisbon may still be derailed by President Klaus and his allies. Enjoying approval ratings of around 70%, Mr. Klaus knows that the Czech citizens don’t care that much for the Lisbon Treaty. Brussels will, no doubt, try to intimidate the Czech public with all kinds of veiled threats,as they did in Ireland. Mr. Klaus, though, understands that his obstinacy may erode his popularity, but cannot destroy it. After all, if he can hold out until the middle of 2010, it will be the British who will take the blame for killing the Lisbon Treaty.

Mr. Klaus also knows that after four decades of rule from Moscow, many Czechs remain opposed to being ruled from Brussels. Lastly, Mr. Klaus knows that the EU subsidies that Brussels periodically uses to extract political concessions from Europe’s poorer and smaller countries have no effect on economic growth. Whether the Czechs receive net financial transfers from Brussels or do not, their economy will grow in accordance with the health of the global economy and Czech business environment, which is mostly a result of Czech legislation.

If all else fails, the pro‐​Treaty members of the Czech parliament may even try to impeach Mr. Klaus, according to the Czech press. It is highly unlikely, however, that they would get the required majority for such a dramatic move. Moreover, the Czech constitution states that the president can only be impeached if he commits high treason against Czech independence, territorial integrity and democratic order. Yet those are precisely the values that Mr. Klaus’s opposition to the Lisbon Treaty aims to protect.

The process of passing the Lisbon Treaty revealed a side to European integration that few people like. It is an ugly face of condescension and bullying. Mr. Klaus must expect to be subjected to intense pressure, but freedom‐​loving Europeans hope that he remains standing firm.

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