The parliament will finally decide on the Lisbon Treaty

1. How does the future of the EU after the Irish ‘No’ look like?


If we look at the political discourse in the country, the long term consequences of the problems of ratifying the Lisbon Treaty are discussed only to a limited degree. Since the Czech Republic has not yet ratified the treaty, the debate is still primarily about whether to ratify it or not. It is foremost the critics of the treaty that actively stress that the treaty would radically change the EU. The advocates, on the other hand, tend to emphasise that the treaty will improve the functioning of the EU without providing any radical changes.[1] In the academic debate, some of the think tanks have engaged in more long term reflections on what could be the consequences of a failure to ratify the Lisbon Treaty, if, for instance, it could open the door to an EU based on flexible integration.[2]

In the Czech Republic the fate of the Irish ratification of the Lisbon Treaty has been awaited with great interest since this has become important also for the Czech ratification of the treaty. President Václav Klaus has argued that he will not ratify the treaty before the Irish have decided on the issue.[3] The conclusions of the December 2008 European Council might even, if only to a limited degree, be helpful also for the Czech Ratification. During the negotiations on both the Constitutional Treaty and the Lisbon Treaty, it has been widely demanded that the Czech Republic should be allowed to keep its commissioner. Therefore, it seems that the change that would allow each member state to have its own commissioner beyond 2014 at least would not have a negative impact on the likelihood of the Czech Ratification.[4] Furthermore, the Czech government has welcomed the Irish demands for legal guarantees regarding tax neutrality in relation to the Lisbon Treaty, and Prime Minister Topolánek has argued that such guarantees should be binding for all countries.[5]

The most well known Czech critic of the Lisbon Treaty, however, President Václav Klaus, has condemned the non-systematic way of changing what was decided in the treaty, even if he, in principle, is not against the “one country, one commissioner” principle.[6] Therefore, the outcome of the December 2008 European Council has not changed his opinion on the treaty, and it is debatable what impact the Irish deal can have on the members of the the members of the upper chamber, who still have not voted on the treaty. In the Chamber of Deputies the treaty was finally accepted after several delays in February 2009.

The Czech Republic, as the presiding country of the EU, is in a peculiar position since the country will have to lead the negotiations with Ireland regarding the details of the deal that should be the base for a second referendum in the country, but simultaneously the ratification of the treaty is not yet secured in the Czech Republic. Since the Constitutional Court in November stated that the Lisbon Treaty, at least in the points the Court analysed, is not in contradiction with the Czech Constitution, it seems that it will be solely a political question whether to ratify the treaty. However, the court dealt only with a specific number of questions that had been specified by the Senate, and even if it seems unlikely, it cannot be ruled out that either a group of MPs, senators or the president will put a new request to the Court with substantially different questions regarding the compatibility of the Lisbon Treaty and the Czech Constitution.[7]

The Chamber of Deputies should have voted on the treaty in December at the initiative of the Social Democrats, but the vote was postponed until February since the treaty proponents were uncertain as to whether they would manage to get the necessary 3/5 majority in favour of the treaty.[8] In the end the treaty received the support of 127 of the 200 members of the lower chamber. The MPs who supported the ratification were the ones from the biggest opposition party, the Social Democratic Party, the two minor coalition parties in the current governing coalition, the Christian Democrats and the Greens, and parts of the major governing party, the Civic Democratic Party (ODS). However, a fraction of the ODS (34 of 76 the party’s MPs) voted against the treaty.[9] The party convention of the ODS called for a deal that would be based on a trade-off with the Social Democrats. The part of the ODS sceptical of the Lisbon Treaty, which might be more crucial in the Senate than in the Chamber of Deputies, would support it in exchange for a Social Democratic support of the US radar base (a part of the US antimissile system) planned to be built in the Czech Republic.[10] The Senate has postponed the voting on the Lisbon Treaty and in March 2009 it was still uncertain when this would take place.[11]

In the aftermath of the debates on the Lisbon Treaty, one new political party has been formed in the Czech Republic. The Civic Democratic Party (ODS) struggled with internal disputes partly as a consequence of the party’s recently more EU friendly approach. At the party’s convention the party’s former strong man and founder, the current president Václav Klaus, left the party. Petr Mach, who is the chair of the think tank at the Center for Politics and Economy, which was founded by Václav Klaus in 1998, thereafter founded a eurosceptic political party; the Party of Free Citizens. Among the founders of the party, there are several persons who are close to Klaus: three current members of the Chamber of Deputies from the ODS have declared that they support this new party, and among the founders of the party are also one of Klaus’ advisors as well as both his sons.[12] Libertas will also be a candidate in the election to the European Parliament in the Czech Republic. It is so far little known who will actually be the candidate for Libertas, but the controversial former director of the private TV channel, Nova, and current MEP, Vladimír Železný, is one of the persons behind the registration of Libertas in the Czech Republic.[13]

The ratification problems of the Lisbon Treaty have also forced the Czech Presidency to start considering how the new Commission should be formed in autumn. The government has stated that the presidency is working with two possible scenarios. The first scenario is that the Lisbon Treaty would come into force at the end of 2009 and the old Commission would then get an extended mandate until this happens. That would solve the problem of the number of Commissioners in the new Commission, since the Lisbon Treaty postpones this reduction of Commissioners at least until 2014. The second scenario is that if the Lisbon Treaty will not come into force during the autumn, the number of Commissioners will have to be lowered. Therefore, the Czech government aims at reaching a deal concerning a reduced number of Commissioners during the Czech Presidency in case the Lisbon Treaty cannot come into force. One version that is discussed is one in which there would be 26 Commissioners and the country without a Commissioner would, as compensation, receive the High Representative for the Common Foreign and Security Policy.[14]

The Czech government has not yet expressed any official view either regarding who will be nominated as the new Czech Commissioner or regarding which portfolio this person ideally should have. Deputy Prime Minister for European Affairs Alexandr Vondra, however, has argued that the Czech Republic should aspire toward any of the following resorts in the new Commission: energy, communication, environment or external relations (although the preferred resort is energy). All these policy fields are considered to be of crucial importance to the Czech Republic.[15] The Social Democrats wanted to see the current Commissioner, Vladimír Špidla, as the election leader to the European Parliament, but he declined the offer.[16] The former Prime Minister might receive the backing of the Social Democrats if he would attempt to defend his position in the Commission. It is, however, unlikely that the current governing coalition would support his name, even if it cannot be excluded that such a deal could be made. In Czech newspapers, there have also been speculations about the current Prime Minister as a potential new Commissioner given the instability of the current governing coalition.[17]

2. Transatlantic relations renewed after President Bush: top priorities


Focusing on Obama’s visit

The current centre-right government is more ’Atlanticist’ in its outlook than the previous one. The biggest party in the coalition, the Civic Democratic Party (ODS), presents itself as a strong supporter of transatlantic ties. Smaller coalition partners – the Christian Democrats (KDU-ČSL) and the Greens (SZ) – are either affirmative (KDU-ČSL) or too weak to change the Atlanticist shift (SZ). The current government still respects the general trend and the continuity of Czech foreign policy as based on ‘two pillars’ – membership in the EU and an alliance with the USA.[18] On the other side, there were moments when the Atlanticist leaning of the government became evident. The prime example is the support of the US radar base in the Czech Republic. Also, the Czech government is quite sceptical regarding the ability of the EU to provide ’hard’ security to its member states (through the European Security Defence Policy (ESDP)). Thus, the EU membership is perceived rather as an ’economic pillar’, and the strategic bond with the USA (either bilateral or multilateral within the NATO) is seen as vital for the hard security of the Czech Republic.

Given its Atlanticist orientation, it is not surprising that the ’transatlantic bond’ plays an important role in the priorities of the current government towards (and within) the EU. Officially, “the Czech Republic sees as crucial Europe’s transatlantic link with the USA and Canada, and the strategic partnership between the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) and the European Union”.[19] In this context, strong ties, partnership and cooperation between the USA and the EU are seen as indispensable for the ’hard’ security of the EU in a similar way as the partnership of the USA and the Czech Republic is indispensable for the hard security of the Czech Republic. According to the Czech government, the contemporary partnership between the USA and the EU is less about securing intra-European stability and more about securing Europe from external threats.[20]

The transatlantic bond between the USA and Europe is seen by the government as a necessity –  a strategic and geopolitical imperative caused by Europe’s (European powers’) lack of military capacities, the weak ESDP and also a ’lack of a will to defend itself’ on the side of Europe. A strong transatlantic bond is an end in itself, and the discussion rarely extends beyond general proclamations that ’we need a strong transatlantic link’.

The priorities of the Czech Presidency are a bit more concrete than a public debate on a transatlantic link between the USA and Europe. “Multilateralism, the Middle East peace process, Afghanistan/Pakistan and relations with Russia” are the top priorities “within the transatlantic dialogue”.[21] According to the government, the renewed transatlantic dialogue should focus on these issues. But concrete (public) proposals on how to revitalize the dialogue itself and on how to rebuild the confidence on both sides of the Atlantic are missing. The government focuses primarily on the arrangement of the EU-US summit in Prague (the organization of this summit is supported by the whole political scene).[22] We can illustrate the point on the case of Guantanamo prisoners. Accepting these prisoners can be seen as an opportunity for an initial ’confidence building measure’. Despite its pro-American outlook, the Czech government took a quite cautious position. The Czech Foreign Minister stressed that “it is up to each nation what they will decide”.[23] So far, there are no signs that the Czech Republic will accept any of the inmates.[24]

It should also be noted that the Czech debate about Atlanticism and strategic ’transatlantic’ ties with the US is bilateral in its nature. The future of Czech-US relations (the issue of the US radar base) gains much more salience than the ’EU-US’ relations. The Czech discussion revolves around the future of the US radar base after Obama’s inauguration rather than about US-EU cooperation. Here, the government expects the continuation of the cooperation while the opposition Social Democrats believe that Obama (confronted with the financial crisis) will scrap the plan for the radar base. The Social Democrats even called upon Obama to scrap the plans for the radar base, believing that such a step would “signal a new era in the relations between Europe and the USA”.[25]

Moreover, the Civic Democrats, as the main coalition partner, treat even the “transatlantic ties” between Europe and the US as an issue of bilateral ties between the US and EU member states.  The Czech political scene has quite happily accepted Rumsfeld’s distinction between the ’old’ and the ’new”’ (US-friendly) Europe. The upcoming meeting with Obama in Prague can be seen as an attempt to reconfirm this special relationship between the US and the new Europe. The Civic Democrats (in contrast to the opposition Social Democrats) still do not believe in the notion of the EU as a ’political actor’ – a consolidated entity which can enter into the ’EU-US’ relationship.[26] This may also be the reason for their reluctance (inability) to reformulate their general call for stronger ’Europe-US’ transatlantic ties into concrete proposals for ’EU-US’ cooperation and partnership on the ground.

3. Financial crisis and challenges of global governance: the EU response


State interventions are believed to be harmful

The Czech banking sector has so far remained rather immune to the turbulence caused by the financial crisis, thanks to a more conservative approach to loans by Czech banks, which in turn is a consequence of the Czech banking crisis in the 1990s. Therefore, the Czech Republic was not seriously hit by the first wave of the financial crisis. The aftermath of the financial crisis, however, has also affected the Czech economy, with a slight increase of unemployment being the first evidence.

The Czech Presidency has chosen the slogan ”Europe without Barriers”, and this is also the Czech recipe for how to deal with the financial crisis. The Czech government warns against protectionism and other potential interventions into the free market which could arise as a reaction to the current crisis. Furthermore, the government emphasises that the EU countries should not loosen their fiscal discipline as a consequence of crisis packages meant to stimulate the economy. Increased budget deficits can, according to the government, have serious consequences for the European competitiveness. Therefore, among others, the EU finance ministers should stick to the goal of reaching consolidated public finances by 2012.[27]

In his address to the European Parliament in January, the Minister of Finance, Miroslav Kalousek, stressed the respect of the Stability and Growth Pact as an important condition for successfully combating the economic downturn:“The Czech Presidency considers the Stability and Growth Pact to be the cornerstone of our budget policies which must not be questioned. After the reform of 2005, the pact now offers a framework for bad as well as good economic times.”[28]

The Czech Presidency will also insist on the maintaining of regulations concerning state intervention in the economy, i.e. regulations concerning state subsidiaries should not be allowed to be violated, and support of the economy in one member state should not be allowed to have negative affects on other member states. Furthermore, the government stresses that the Lisbon process should be continued, since the only cure for the economic crisis is structural change and investments in research and science.[29]

The Economy is one of three priority areas for the Czech Presidency, the others being energy and Europe in the world. Regarding the economy, the presidency will primarily stress the removal of all barriers that still stand in the way of the internal market freedoms (the primary stress being on the removal of barriers for workers from the new member states), reforms that will reduce the administrative burden of small and middle enterprises and increased fair trade on the global level. These are issues where there is a consensus among Czech political actors.[30] Yet, the Czech priorities regarding the economy have been criticized for being one sided while only emphasising deregulations and a more market economy as solutions for a crisis caused by deregulations.[31]

President Klaus has, unsurprisingly, despite doubting the seriousness of the crisis, advocated a more radical recipe for the solution of the economic crisis. In general, however, he agrees with the government and has expressed his satisfaction with what the government does to handle the situation. They largely share the view that improvised political solutions might be more dangerous than the crisis itself.[32] Yet, Klaus suggests radical reforms towards the economic downturn that would, during a limited period, violate some individual rights – for instance, concerning the possibility of challenging, and thus delaying, the planned highways in the Czech Republic.[33] Klaus put it in more general terms in an article published in the Financial Times, where he argued: “The best thing to do now would be temporarily to weaken, if not repeal, various labour, environmental, social, health and other ‘standards’, because they block rational human activity more than anything else.”[34] This formulation was criticized on the European level by leading European socialists, e.g. Martin Schulz. Klaus’ statements should not be entitled to too much importance since his office is largely representative. Yet, there have been speculations that Klaus wants to destabilise the governing coalition with his medial appearances.[35]

Regarding the solutions to the crisis on the domestic level, the Czech government has been criticised by some economists for not completely realising how serious the situation is. For instance, the economist and former candidate for Czech president Jan Švejnar has argued that the government’s prediction of a slowdown of economic growth is too optimistic;[36] a more realistic assumption would be zero growth, given, among others, the heavy dependence of the Czech economy on the car industry.[37]

The biggest opposition party, the Social Democrats (ČSSD), have suggested a more impressive list of 52 proposals to combat the economic crisis. What is striking is that many of these proposals relate to European integration. The first proposal on the list is the Czech ratification of the Lisbon Treaty, which, in the view of the party, would improve the chances of the Czech Presidency to successfully moderate the debates on the economic crisis. The ČSSD also welcomes an increased role for the EU in regulating the European financial sectors and calls for a plan for the introduction of the Euro in the Czech Republic.[38] The party has also accused the government of passivity and called for greater action and involvement with the economy.[39]

In order to handle the slowdown of the economy on the domestic level, the government has established a special national economic council, consisting of 10 leading economists, who should discuss and propose solutions to the current crisis. In addition Kalousek has declared that government action will be necessary if the growth rate drops below two percent of the GDP. One possibility is a reduction of VAT on some services with high added value, such as restaurant services, etc. What is necessary, however, is an agreement on the EU level. Other possibilities include increased investments in infrastructure.[40]



[1] For a good example see Monika MacDonagh Pajerová: ale akceschopná EU se bez smlouvy neobejde (an efficient EU cannot do without the treaty) available at: (last access: 21 January 2009).
[2] See, e.g., David Král: Multi – speed Europe and the Lisbon Treaty – threat or opportunity?, available at: (last access: 21 January 2009).
[3] Lisabonská smlouva nejde proti české ústavě, rozhodl soud (The Lisbon Treaty is not in contradiction to the Czech Constitution, said the court), 26 November 2008, available at: (last access: 21 January 2009).
[4] Každý stát EU bude mít dál eurokomisaře (All EU states will continue to have a Euro-commissioner), 12 December 2008, available at: (last access: 21 January 2009).
[5] Blahoslav Hruška: Podle Topolánka začne Lisabon platit na konci roku 2009 (According to Topolánek the Lisbon Treaty will come into force at the end of 2009), 12 December 2008, available at: (last access: 21 January 2009).
[6] Klaus nesouhlasí s tím,jak Brusel přistupuje k lisabonské smlouvě (Klaus does not agree with the way Brussels approaches the Lisbon Treaty), Czech News Agency, 12 December 2008.
[7] Lisabonská smlouva nejde proti české ústavě, rozhodl soud (The Lisbon Treaty is not in contradiction to the Czech Constitution, said the court), 26 November 2008, available at: (last access: 21 January 2009).
[8] Sněmovna přerušila jednání o lisabonské smlouvě do počátku února (The Chamber of Deputies interrupted the debate on the Lisbon Treaty until the beginning of February), Czech News Agency, 9 December 2008.
[9] Sněmovna schválila lisabonskou smlouvu (The Chamber of Deputies indorsed the Lisbon Treaty), available at (last access 16 March 2009)
[10] The actual resolution of the party convention is formulated rather vaguely, but it states that MPs from the party can vote according to their own preferences regarding the Lisbon Treaty and that the radar base is a priority. See Usnesení 19. Kongresu ODS (Resolutions of the 19 Congress of the ODS), available at:, (last access: 21 January 2009).
[11] Senát schvalování lisabonské smlouvy o měsíc odložil (The senate postponed the ratification of the Lisbon Treaty by one month), Czech News Agency, 10 December 2008.
[12] Strana svobodných občanů (The Party of Free Citizens), available at: , (last access: 21 January 2009).
[13] Czech MEP Zelezny establishes movement, 20 January 2009, available at:  (last access: 21 January).
[14] Česko chce hledat záruky pro ratifikaci Lisabonu v Irsku (The Czech Republic wants to find guarantees for the ratification of the Lisbon Treaty in Ireland), 8 January 2009, available at: (last access: 21 January).
[15] Vondra: ČR bude chtít eurokomisaře pro energetiku (Vondra: CZ would like a Euro-commissioner for energy), 11 November 2008, available at: (last access: 21 January).
[16] Širší vedení ČSSD a KSČM budou připravovat eurovolby (The broader leadership of ČSSD and KSČM will prepare for the Euro election), Czech News Agency, 12 December 2008.
[17] Lucie Tvarůžková: Po uši v Bruselu, Hospodářské noviny, 29 December 2008.
[18] Petr Drulák: Česká zahraniční politika mezi internacionalismem a atlantismem (Czech foreign policy between internationalism and Atlanticism), in: Michal Kořan (ed.): Česká zahraniční politika v roce 2007. Analýza ÚMV, Ústav mezinárodních vztahů, Prague 2008.
[19] Transatlantic relations – priorities of the Czech Republic,, available at: (last access: 28 January 2009).
[20]Transatlantic relations – priorities of the Czech Republic,, available at: (last access: 28 January 2009).
[21] Work Programme of the Czech Presidency. Europe without Barriers, Czech presidency of the Council of the EU, 2009, available at: (last access: 28 January 2009).
[22] Češi chtějí v Praze zorganizovat první setkání Obamy a lídrů EU (Czechs want to organize the first meeting between Obama and EU leaders), Czech news agency, 5 November 2008.
[23] EU doubts over taking in former Guantánamo prisoners, The Guardian, 26 January 2009, available at: (last access: 3 February 2009).
[24] The government remains silent, but the opposition Social Democrats refused to accept the prisoners in the Czech Republic or in the EU (c.f. Sociální demokraté se k přijmutí vězňů z Guantánama staví odmítavě,, 24 January 2009). The public assumes a hostile stance, refusing to accept any Guantánamo ’terrorists’ on Czech soil.
[25] Libor Rouček: Libor Rouček vyzývá Baracka Obamu ke zrušení plánů na výstavbu amerického radaru v Brdech (Libor Rouček calls upon Barack Obama to scrap the plans for the construction of the American radar in Brdy), ČSSD press statement, 5 November 2008.
[26] It must also be noted that the attitude of the Civic Democrats towards the notion of the EU as a global political actor is becoming more affirmative recently. The reason lies in the perceived need to (jointly) face up to the ’global challenges’ of, e.g., the geopolitical revival of Russia and the economic (which turned into the geopolitical) rise of ’Asian powers’ such as India or China.
[27] Balanced deficit defined as being less than one percent of GDP. See Kalousek: EU by se měla vrátit ke konsolidaci rozpočtů (Kalousek: the EU should return to consolidated budgets), 20 January 2009, available at: (last access: 21 January 2009); see also Alexandr Vondra: Předsednictví se může podobat italskému catenacciu (Alexandr Vondra: The Presidency could resemble an Italian catenacciu), 8 December 2008, available at: (last access: 21 January 2009).
[28] Miroslav Kalousek: Presentation of the Czech Presidency’s Priorities concerning Financial and Economic Affairs to the European Parliament, 21 January 2009, available at: (last access: 21 January 2009).
[29] Mirek Topolánek: Neuhnu ani o milimetr. Mám plnou odpovědnost a dostojím jí (I won’t back away even a millimeter. I have full responsibility and I intend to fulfil it), 7 January 2009, available at: (last access: 21 January 2009).
[30] Jan Hřích: Vnitřní trh a ekonomické politiky (The internal market and economic policies), in: Jan Karlas (ed.): Jak předsedat Evropské unii? Návrh priorit předsednictví ČR v Radě EU v roce 2009 (How to chair the European Union? Proposed priorities of the Czech Presidency of the EU Council in 2009), Institute of International Relations, Prague, 2009.
[31] See, e.g., Jaques Rupnik: Bořme bariéry. Ale jen ty, co existují (Let us remove barriers, but only the existing ones), 7 January 2009, available at: (last access: 21 January 2009).
[32] Utrácejte, utrácejte, poradil byznysmenům v krizi Klaus (“Spend, spend” was Klaus’ advice to businessmen), 16 December 2008, available at: (last access 21 January 2009).
[33] Václav Klaus: Čím já koho štvu? Že mám pravdu? (Václav Klaus: Why do I upset people? Because I am right?), 2 January 2009, available at: (last access: 21 January 2009).
[34] Václav Klaus: Do not tie the markets – free them, 7 January 2009, available at: (last access: 21 January 2009).
[35] Evropští socialisté ostře kritizovali Klause za výroky k EU (European Socialists criticized Klaus for his statements on the EU), Czech News Agency, 7 January 2009
[36] According to the expectations of the government, the Czech Republic will have a growth of above two percent of the GDP during 2009, and unemployment will increase only by one percent to 6.3 percent. C.f. Kalousek: Hospodářský růst příští rok neklesne pod 2 procenta (Kalousek: Economic growth will not go below two percent), 27 December 2008, available at: (last access: 21 January 2009).
[37] Jan Macháček: Interview with Jan Švejnar, Respekt, 2, 2009.
[38] PŘEHLEDNĚ: 52 receptů ČSSD proti krizi (Overview: 52 recipes of ČSSD against the crisis) available at: (last access: 21 January 2009).
[39] Jiří Paroubek: Česko v čele EU – úspěch nebo otazníky? (The Czech Republic as EU leader – success or question marks?), 26 January 2009, available at: (last access: 30 January 2009).
[40] Kalousek uvažuje o snížení DPH za některé služby (Kalousek considers reduction of VAT on some services), 20 January 2009, available at:  (last access: 30 January 2009).