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After many months of delays, false starts and raised hopes, the Czech Senate finally ratified the European Union's far-reaching reform measure known as the Lisbon Treaty. Among other things, the treaty would — ironically — streamline the decision making process of the EU, which now includes 27 members states and nearly 500 million people.
It would also create a more stable EU presidency. The current format — a rotating presidency that changes country's every six months — would be replaced by an elected official who would serve a two-and-a-half year term.
The vote in the Czech Senate was 54-20, in the 81-seat chamber, with the other senators either abstaining or not showing up for the vote. The drama surrounding the long-delayed vote centered on the ruling Civic Democratic Party, known locally by the initials ODS. The ODS is the largest party in both chambers of Parliament, and the treaty could not have passed either chamber without their support. In the end, 12 of the 31 ODS Senators voted for the treaty, six more than needed.
Still, the vote produced an array of hostile responses from within the party. One ODS senator quite the party, others are vowing to file an appeal to the country's Constitutional Court. (But this is the same court — and the country's highest — that ruled last November that the Lisbon Treaty was not at odds with the Czech Constitution.)
Of course, President Vaclav Klaus, an outright opponent of the European Union who late last year called himself "an EU dissident", condemned the Senate's vote. Klaus's vituperative response included the suggestion that the country's Velvet Revolution — 20 years ago — had all been for naught.
"I refuse this" vote, Klaus said, according to the Czech New Agency, CTK. "Either we regained sovereignty after the 1989 overthrow of the Communist regime and thereby also responsibility for further fates of our nation or all of this was nothing but a tragic error."
Klaus's hostility to the European Union in general and the Lisbon Treaty in particular is noteworthy because he still has to sign the treaty in order for it to be ratified. He's already hinted that he won't sign it until the Irish ratify the treaty. (Ireland rejected the treaty last year, but it has since been modified and the Irish are expected to ratify it in a new vote late this year).
Likewise Klaus said he won't sign it until the Constitutional Court rules — in a case yet to be filed by ODS senators — on the treaty's compatibility with the country's Constitution. Polish President Lech Kaczynski also has refused to sign the treaty until the Irish ratify it. And there is also a legal appeal under way in Germany.
But Klaus, a founding member of ODS and until recently an honorary party chairman, doesn't seem willing to sink the measure all by himself. That is, if all of the other aforementioned loose ends fall into place — Klaus won't be the one to kill the reform measure for half a billion other people.