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Lisbon Treaty hurtles toward final hurdle

The future of Europe now lies in the hands of 15 men in Moravia.

Moravia is the eastern half of the Czech Republic, and in the regional capital of Brno the country's Constitutional Court is considering whether a European Union reform treaty is at odds with the Czech Constitution. The pivotal ruling is expected on Tuesday.

The 15-member court already rejected a similar appeal during the past year, which has created a sense that this week's ruling will yield the same result, though that is by no means assured.

At stake is nothing less than the future of Europe. If the court rules that the so-called Lisbon Treaty is at odds with the country's constitution, then a multi-year effort to reform the way the EU operates will go up in smoke. And the ramifications of that are hard to gauge.

But if the court rules the treaty is not at odds with the country's constitution then all eyes will shift to Prague Castle — home of the prickly President Vaclav Klaus.

Of the EU's 27 member states only the Czechs have failed to ratify the treaty. Both houses of the Czech parliament approved the treaty earlier this year but it needs the president's signature to be final.

For months Klaus — who openly disdains the EU — said he would, nonetheless, sign the treaty if Irish voters passed it in their own national referendum. The Irish voters passed it overwhelmingly but still Klaus balked, announcing he wanted an opt-out clause for his country from the treaty's charter of fundamental rights.

In particular, Klaus said he feared the charter could open a path for a World War II-era German minority to make restitution claims on property they lost after the war when they were forced to leave the country under the so-called Benes Decrees.

Virtually all independent legal experts say Klaus's claim is without merit, and some have ridiculed it as absurd. Still, EU leaders, desperate to resolve the crisis, reluctantly agreed to Klaus's demands last week at a gathering of all of the EU's heads-of-state.

Now Klaus says he is waiting for the court's ruling. But will he really sign if the Constitutional Court rules against the plaintiffs (Klaus's fellow conservatives from the Czech Senate)?

Prime Minister Jan Fischer tells GlobalPost, in an exclusive interview, that he believes Klaus will sign.

“I'm pretty sure he is ready to sign,” he said, based on his conversations with Klaus.

Fischer added that the Swedish government, which currently holds the EU's rotating presidency, shares his belief that the Czech president will sign as long as the court clears the way.

“I know the Swedish Prime Minister Frederic Fredrik Reinfeldt came to the same conclusion after his phone call with our head of state,” Fischer said. “Reinfeldt came to the conclusion ... that our president will be ready to sign.”

Perhaps, but until the cantankerous president actually signs the treaty, no one can say with 100 percent certainty what he will do. (The president's office did not respond to multiple requests for comment.) What is certain, however, is that Klaus has seemingly infuriated just about everyone — except a sizable portion of Czech society.

Politicians in Brussels and across the EU aren't the only ones angered by Klaus' theatrics. Few dare criticize him here at home, where he enjoys relatively strong public support, at about 60 percent. But the only political party that shares Klaus' hostility toward the EU is the unreformed Communist Party, although a hard-right segment of the Civic Democratic Party (ODS) also opposes greater EU integration.

Even though Klaus effectively founded the Civic Democrats in the aftermath of the 1989 Velvet Revolution, he has fallen out with the current leadership. He was honorary party chairman until he formally broke his ties with the party last December. ODS rejects Klaus's claims that the Lisbon Treaty threatens Czech sovereignty, or leaves the country vulnerable to possible restitution claims from the post-war era.

ODS spokesman Martin Kupka laughed when asked if the president's grandstanding was little more than a lusting for power and attention. He then demured, saying, “All of us knew his opinion about the EU. His latest steps are in line with this politician. The steps are for making visible his attitude, which isn't positive.”