‘Make or break’ week for Lisbon Treaty


The EU has no backup plan if the Lisbon Treaty fails to be ratified, experts and sources from the European institutions told EURACTIV. Next Friday’s Irish referendum is seen as make-or-break time, but so is a key Czech Senate decision due on Tuesday (29 September).

EU leaders have been discussing tactics for the final stages of the Lisbon Treaty’s ratification in Ireland, the Czech Republic and Poland, recognising their limited leverage, sources told EURACTIV. 

The bottom line in such discussions, including at the recently-held extraordinary EU summit (see EURACTIV 18/09/09), is that EU reform would have to wait for many years in the worst-case scenario of non-ratification in one or more countries. 

No ‘plan B’ 

“There is no plan B,” the founding director of the Centre for European Policy Studies and the director of the European Strategy Forum, Peter Ludlow, told this website. 

Ludlow said that EU leaders were worried by the delays to the Lisbon Treaty’s ratification, but a ‘Plan B’ was neither discussed, nor seen as conceivable. 

“If you look at the Antici notes of Thursday’s [extraordinary Council summit on 17 September], this was discussed by the heads of state and government, but not in the form of a plan B,” Ludlow said. 

The Antici Group (named after its Italian founder), among other duties takes notes of the discussions by heads of state and government at European Councils. 

“Everybody has ideas, but it would be absolutely absurd for anybody to speculate. For the moment, the position is that if [the second appeal] is referred to the Czech Constitutional Court on 29 September, Klaus has grounds for not signing until that appeal is resolved,” said Ludlow. 

On that day, the Constitutional Court would have to decide whether to launch a second appeal procedure, challenging the conformity of the Lisbon Treaty with the Czech constitution, at the request of a group of senators close to Eurosceptic President Václav Klaus. 

“The president of the Constitutional Court has indicated that simply on procedural grounds, this process will take at least three months: it could also take six months,” said Ludlow, adding that this would bridge the gap until elections are held in the UK, where Conservative leader David Cameron plans to stage a referendum over the reform treaty and kill it. 

Marco Incerti, a researcher at the Centre for European Policy Studies (CEPS), concurred that there was no plan B, but stressed that the EU would put some pressure on Klaus if the ‘yes’ camp were to prevail in the Irish referendum. 

Klaus the main risk factor

Speaking to EURACTIV, Incerti saw Klaus as the main risk factor in the quest for the Lisbon Treaty’s entry into force.

“Mr. Klaus has made no secret that he is willing and prepared to create trouble. The Treaty is awaiting the presidential signature in Poland as well, but lately its president Lech Kaczy?ski has kept a lower profile, and the political situation in the country is more stable. In the Czech Republic Klaus feels stronger because there have not been strong political majorities in his country in recent times,” said Incerti.

“If the Treaty of Lisbon is approved by the Irish in the referendum next Friday, the other EU leaders will have a more convincing argument to try and exert moral suasion on Mr. Klaus, they will probably try to put him in a corner and show that it can be costly to be isolated in Europe,” Incerti said.

But he added that cornering Klaus would not be physical or immediate as there are no direct technical or legal means to do that, and would require first and foremost pressure from Czech society.

In terms of legal mechanism, there is nothing in the Treaties providing for pressuring a country into ratifying, said Incerti, even in the situation of a president who has to complete the procedure by signing.

“In legal terms, the only hunch that one can have is the fact that the Vienna Convention of the Law of the Treaties stipulates that when you sign a treaty, you have an obligation to do your best for it to be ratified,” he added.

The expert considered that the idea of creating a ‘core Europe’ of EU countries willing to proceed further on European integration should the Lisbon Treaty fail to come to life was also extremely difficult and unlikely to be implemented in the near future.

In the EU Treaties “there is no provision either for setting up an alternative ‘core European Union’, as was recently suggested by Italian Prime Minister [Silvio] Berlusconi, and by more credible and serious people before him,” Incerti concluded. 

The ongoing institutional uncertainty over the Lisbon Treaty began in earnest when Irish voters rejected the text by popular referendum in June 2008 (EURACTIV 13/06/08). However, when the Irish government committed to holding a second referendum, set for 2 October 2009, after being granted a number of key concessions by EU leaders (EURACTIV 12/12/08), attention turned to the Czech Republic. 

While the Czech parliament ratified the treaty in February (EURACTIV 18/02/09), the Czech Senate repeatedly postponed its final vote, mainly due to the issue being linked to the controversial US missile defence shield (EURACTIV 25/02/09). 

Divisions in the Civic Democratic party (ODS) over the treaty were deep enough to influence the collapse of the Czech government, a cause of significant embarrassment for the country, which held the rotating EU presidency in the first half of the year. 

The Lisbon Treaty's opponents among Czech senators first turned to the Constitutional Court in 2008. Last November, the Court said it did not find the treaty inconsistent with the Czech constitutional order. On 6 May, the Czech upper house approved the Lisbon Treaty by large majority, clearing the path for the treaty's final ratification in the Czech Republic. 

But in another twist in the tale, a group of senators again questioned the constitutionality of the Lisbon Treaty (see EURACTIV 24/08/09). The Constitutional Court must now decide whether to agree to launch an appeal procedure. 

  • 2 Oct.: Second referendum on Lisbon Treaty in Ireland. 

On 8 September, Fondation EURACTIV held a workshop on the priorities for the next Commission under Chatham House rules
. As the new EU executive settles in, EURACTIV will continue to cover the new EU executive's work programme in its 
EU Priorities section and during 'Special Week' coverage of the Spanish EU Presidency (
see programme here

Subscribe to our newsletters