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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 president mentioned this to the Swedish prime minister in the long-awaited phone conversation and Reinfeldt said he told Klaus immediately that “this is the wrong message at the wrong time. There have been many opportunities and plenty of time to put forward different views. I know I speak for many of my colleagues when I express this view.”

French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner immediately spoke out for himself, rejecting Klaus’ wish out of hand. Speaking at a press conference on Friday, Kouchner declared: "We are not going to change the Lisbon treaty, it has been approved by the Czech parliament and by the Czech senate in the precise terms in which everybody has accepted it."

Kouchner added that he had “no doubt that President Klaus is going to invent many more difficulties,” but that he believed the Czech people, who are polled as supportive of the Lisbon Treaty, would press their president to sign it.

Nonetheless, Klaus is more than content to wait the process out. He is said to possibly be planning to try to extend the deadlock until 2010 when fellow EU opponents in Britain, David Cameron and the Conservative party, can try to win office and hold a referendum they envision would reject the treaty.

EU officials, meanwhile, wanted to have the required 27 ratifications in hand by the end of this month when heads of state come to Brussels for a summit. That's when they hope to begin talking seriously about the changes the treaty would usher in, most notably a permanent rather than rotating presidency, a foreign minister with a foreign service, and various adjustments to streamline the bureaucracy. At worst, Sweden wants that process to be well under way by the end of December, when it hands over the presidency to Spain, but Reinfeldt says he can’t begin in earnest without knowing what will happen in Prague. The fact that this massive operation affecting the governance of 500 million Europeans is held hostage by a handful of individuals has some saying that the reform treaty itself needs reforming. It is itself a reformation of the proposed constitution rejected by the French and the Dutch in 2005.

Joan Marc Simon, Secretary General of the Union of European Federalists, said the situation proved what his organization has been emphasizing as one of the major weaknesses of the EU’s experiment of “broadening” and “deepening” the union: the requirement for unanimity in decision-making.

“We have always said that working by unanimity is only going to block the European Union,” Simon said. “What Klaus is doing and saying is confirming our argument. This isn’t even one member state blocking — the (Czech) parliament is in favor, the prime minister is in favor — you have17 senators who can block the entire European Union with its whole democratic process, economic interests, climate change … . That’s not a very efficient way to function.”

Simon also pointed out an irony in the position of the anti-Lisbon camp, many of whom are also anti-EU in general: The treaty includes an article that establishes for the first time a mechanism for a country to quit the bloc. “Get Lisbon approved and they can leave the union!” he laughed.