Czech hurdles to delay EU leaders’ decision on top jobs

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The European Union is likely to put off a decision on appointing a president this week because of a delay in ratifying the treaty that creates the post, EU foreign ministers said yesterday (26 October) ahead of this week’s summit in Brussels.

The bloc’s leaders had hoped to agree on a candidate at their Thursday and Friday meeting. But many member states say it is premature to do so because the Czech Republic has not approved the Lisbon reform treaty. 

A special summit is now likely in November to agree on the president and a foreign policy chief. Any further delay could undermine the EU’s efforts to increase its global influence and match the rise of China and other emerging powers. 

UK Foreign Secretary David Miliband said before talks in Luxembourg that Europe needed a strong leader and former Prime Minister Tony Blair would fit the bill, but some countries would prefer a less high-profile leader. 

“We need to have legal clarity on the appointment of these posts,” said Cecilia Malmstrom, Sweden’s minister for EU affairs, referring to the delay over Czech ratification. 

“If we don’t have that, we cannot decide on names,” Malmstrom, whose country has been negotiating with the Czech Republic on behalf of the Union, told reporters at an EU foreign ministers’ meeting in Luxembourg. 

Diplomats said a summit could be called midway through next month to decide on the appointments. “There are plans to hold an extra summit in mid-November,” a senior diplomat said. Another said: “It’s clear we will need another summit.” 

EU stumbles over Czech obstacles

Czech President Václav Klaus is the last leader holding out against treaty ratification, arguing that it would take away national sovereignty. He has said he will sign it only if Prague secures an opt-out from the fundamental rights charter that is attached to it.

A complaint to the Czech Constitutional Court was filed by a group of conservative senators who say the treaty would infringe Czech national sovereignty.

The constitutional court is unlikely to make an immediate ruling when it considers a complaint against the European Union’s reform treaty today (27 October), Prime Minister Jan Fischer said. 

The court complaint, which most lawyers say will be dismissed, is an obstacle to Czech ratification, the final nod needed to bring the treaty into force. EU leaders want to complete the process by the end of the year. 

“My forecast is that [on 27 October] the Constitutional Court will not decide on the case,” Fischer told a news conference on Monday, adding that a subsequent hearing would probably make the ruling. The court has not said when it will make the ruling, but in past cases it has often ruled on the day of the first hearing or soon after. 

The court has rejected a similar complaint before. Czech ratification also hinges on a demand by President Klaus to secure the Czech Republic an opt-out from a rights charter attached to the Lisbon Treaty. 

Blair under pressure

Meanwhile Tony Blair is under increasing pressure to declare wheteher he wants to become Europe’s first president.

“This is about every country thinking: do we want a strong collective direct European voice in the world? And this is a job that needs someone who is persuasive, an advocate of a strong vision and committed to coalition-building. And I think that’s what Tony stands for,” Miliband told reporters. 

Several other foreign ministers in Luxembourg said they would support Blair or a strong candidate. 

But some countries favour a less high-profile leader who they believe would be better able to secure a consensus among member states. Others do not want a candidate from Britain because it has not joined the single currency, and some oppose Blair because he backed the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003.

(EURACTIV with Reuters.)

The Lisbon Treaty sets out reforms to streamline EU decision-making now that it has 27 member states. It also creates a long-term president of the Council of EU leaders and a foreign policy chief with enhanced powers for a bloc representing nearly 500 million people. 

Czech President Václav Klaus, the last leader holding out against the treaty, says it would take away national sovereignty. He has said he will sign it only if Prague secures an opt-out from a rights charter that is attached to it. 

Czech ratification is also possible only if the country's constitutional court rejects a legal challenge to the treaty, but a ruling on this is now unlikely before this week's summit. Even if the Czech Republic completes ratification quickly, the Union has yet to agree on what kind of president it wants. 

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