Czech ruling is pivotal for EU reforms
BRUSSELS (Reuters) - The Czech constitutional court's ruling on Tuesday against a legal challenge to the European Union's Lisbon reform treaty cleared one of the final hurdles to the charter's ratification.
* The ruling increases pressure on President Vaclav Klaus to sign the treaty even though he says it would take away Czech sovereignty. The Czech parliament has already approved the document and Klaus has signalled he will sign it soon. This would complete EU ratification of the treaty because it has already been ratified by the other 26 member states. Depending on when Klaus signs, the treaty could come into force in December or January.
* The ruling opens the way to reforms of the EU institutions to ease decision-making, which has become unwieldy since the bloc expanded to 27 member states, and give the EU more clout on the world stage. This is intended to match the rise of emerging powers such as China following the global economic crisis.
* The ruling gives a clear signal to other EU leaders that they can push ahead full steam with deciding whom to appoint to two jobs outlined in the treaty -- the new post of president of the Council of EU leaders and a foreign policy chief with enhanced powers. The leaders have said they want legal clarity to agree on the appointments, and were waiting for the court ruling to provide this.
* Sweden, which holds the EU presidency, could now face greater pressure to call a special summit on the appointments because no decisions were taken on the nominations at last week's summit. French President Nicolas Sarkozy said last week a special summit would probably be required. The EU wants to complete the appointments as soon as possible to fill the legal and political vacuum and to enable European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso to start assembling the new Commission, the EU executive comprising representatives of the member states.
* Although Klaus has acknowledged he will have to sign the treaty, he will feel he has saved face by securing a deal with other EU member states that gives the Czech Republic an opt-out from a human rights charter attached to the treaty. EU leaders agreed last week to this opt-out, which Klaus said was necessary to shield the Czech Republic from property claims by ethnic Germans expelled after World War Two.
* The ruling reduces the likelihood of Britain's Conservatives holding a referendum on the treaty if they win power in a parliamentary election next year. Conservative leader David Cameron has said he will hold a referendum if not all other countries have ratified the treaty by the time of the British election, but acknowledges that Klaus is now unlikely to hold out till next year.
"I always want to keep alive the prospect for a referendum as long as possible. That's why I've always hoped that President Klaus wouldn't sign the treaty," Cameron said on Monday. "But it looks as if times are changing and we will address that just as soon as we need to."
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