Highest Czech court postpones ruling on EU reform treaty

Other News Materials 25 November 2008 15:28 (UTC +04:00)

The Czech Republic's Constitutional Court adjourned Tuesday a hearing on whether the European Union's reform treaty is in line with the country's constitution, postponing the proceedings to Wednesday, court chairman Pavel Rychetsky said.

The Czech Republic is the last of the 27 EU members that has yet to vote on the treaty, which has been stalled since Irish voters rejected in a June referendum. Ireland is the only member state to have voters decide directly on the treaty, reported dpa.

The closely-watched ruling will either open the way for a vote on the accord in country's bicameral parliament or bring it closer to its demise. The pact must be ratified by all member states to become valid.

The 15-member court based in the Czech city of Brno heard arguments of the parties to the case, including Czech President Vaclav Klaus, a fierce opponent of the Lisbon Treaty designed to simplify decision-making in the union.

Klaus said before the court that the treaty would change Czech Republic's international standing, weaken its voice in the EU and infringe on country's sovereignty.

"The decision-making will be handed over to the union's hands which are not subjected to a sufficient democratic control," the president said, calling court's verdict "apparently the most important you will make."

The Czech leader has earlier called the pact a resurrection of the failed European Constitution, rejected by French and Dutch voters in 2005.

"Deepening of the European integration should not occur covertly, behind the backs of the member states' citizens and should not be forced on them against their will," he told the court.

Speaking before the court, Vice-Premier for European Affairs Alexandr Vondra countered that "the Lisbon Treaty does not turn the union into a federation, it is still a union of sovereign states."

Klaus, whose approval is required for the pact to be ratified by the Czech Republic, said he would not block the treaty but would sign it after Ireland reverses its rejection.

The treaty was put under the court's review by Klaus-leaning eurosceptic Senators for the senior ruling Civic Democratic Party of Prime Minister Mirek Topolanek.

Contrary to Klaus, Topolanek, who signed the treaty on behalf of the Czech Republic in December 2007, has spoken in favour of the pact. He called the treaty a condition for the EU membership which protects the former central European Soviet satellite from Russia.

"The real choice is Lisbon or Moscow," Topolanek wrote in a recent op-ed for the Mlada Fronta Dnes daily.

Under the treaty, the Council of the European Union would make most decisions by a so-called double majority of 55 per cent of member states that represent 65 per cent of EU's citizens.

A council president, elected by the council for two and a half years, would replace the rotating six-month presidency held by member states.

The pact would also reduce the number of EU commissioners, introduce a high foreign policy representative and make the EU's Charter of Fundamental Rights legally binding by member states.

Premier Topolanek expressed hopes the country's parliament ratifies the pact before the Czech Republic assumes the EU presidency on January 1. He said he would prefer to amend the constitution if the court finds the two documents at odds.

The treaty, which was approved by parliaments in all member states except for the Czech Republic, awaits presidential signatures in Germany and Poland. dpa kza ds