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It ain't over till Vaclav Klaus sings

The Irish have given their all-important "aye" to the Lisbon Treaty, but another obstacle exists: the anti-EU Czech president.

The Czech Republic's president, Vaclav Klaus, waits to welcome European Parliament President Jerzy Buzek at Prague Castle in Prague, Oct. 9, 2009. (David W Cerny/Reuters)

BRUSSELS, Belgium — Anyone who figured the European Union’s Lisbon Treaty could cruise into force with Ireland’s “yes” vote last week must have forgotten about the eastern flank. Temporarily obscured behind the high drama of the second Irish referendum was the fact that the Polish and Czech governments have yet to formally ratify the treaty.

EU leaders may have helped give an overly optimistic impression that the treaty, which is aimed at streamlining the 27-member bloc's bureaucratic processes, was good to go.

Though plenty aware of what lies ahead, they nevertheless allowed themselves a brief celebration after the Oct. 2 result and led the slapping of Dublin’s back. Swedish Prime Minister Fredrick Reinfeldt, whose country holds the EU presidency, called it a “good decision for Ireland … a good decision for Europe”; Jerzy Buzek, President of the European Parliament, kicked it up a notch, calling the vote a “great day for Ireland and a great day for Europe”; and European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso proclaimed that now, all “member states of the European Union, by parliament or popular vote, have approved the treaty.”

Polish President Lech Kaczynski promptly said that the Irish "aye" would compel him to sign the treaty, which he is scheduled to do on Saturday, fulfilling 26 ratifications out of the 27 member states.

But all 27 are needed and Czech President Vaclav Klaus, a staunch opponent of the European Union, has not made such a pronouncement.

In fact, in the days just after the Irish vote, Klaus said as little as possible on the treaty, even refusing to take phone calls from Reinfeldt, who wanted to discuss Czech intentions. This struck such a chord with the Swedish presidency that it put out a press notice when Klaus finally did speak with Reinfeldt, on Thursday.

Meantime, Czech Prime Minister Jan Fischer scrambled to fill the void. Fischer told EU leaders by teleconference on Wednesday that he was “fully and deeply convinced that there is no reason for anxiety in Europe. In the Czech Republic the question is not whether yes or no, the question is when.”

But Fischer’s optimistic pronouncement itself has a tinge of anxiety, and understandably so. After all, there is much talk about what the political cost, or “punishment,” would be to the Czech Republic, should Klaus really hold out. The European Parliament president, Buzek, said that while it’s crucial to allow the Czechs their independence, it’s also fair to make clear “how costly it is to delay this procedure.”

For the time being, Klaus actually has an excuse for remaining mum about his plans. Though both Czech houses of parliament have ratified the Lisbon Treaty, last week 17 opposing senators filed a motion in a constitutional court aimed at blocking it. The court could take weeks to  deliver its opinion, and Klaus says he must wait till then. (It’s a pretty small fig leaf, however, as this court has already rejected one attempt to declare the treaty unconstitutional.)

And Klaus has thrown up another late-breaking obstacle, suddenly announcing (to the surprise even of the prime minister, by some accounts) that he wants opt-outs for the Czech Republic regarding the Charter of Fundamental Rights, which he belatedly decided would give too much power to EU courts over national ones in deciding whether a country’s laws are compliant with the EU charter. Never mind the small detail that the Czech president does not legally have the power to negotiate treaties. Britain and Poland did negotiate some flexibility in advance and Klaus says the Czechs deserve the same.