>Klaus relents on Lisbon – but how far?

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Today’s Times reports that Václav Klaus has relented – or is about to relent – and will sign the Lisbon Treaty in the coming weeks if some Irish-style deal to assuage his concerns about possible legal challenges to the 1945-6 Beneš Decrees expelling and expropriating Czechoslovakia’s three million strong ethnic German minority under the Charter of Fundamental Rights which forms part of the Treaty are specifically ruled out.

The report is on an interview with Klaus published in Lidové noviny two days earlier in which VK makes clear he doesn’t want a new Treaty that would have to be re-ratified by all 27 member states; that he ‘cannot and will not wait for the British elections’ even though David Cameron wrote to him in July urging him to do so (or, actually, in Mr Klaus’s careful phrasing the letter’more or less suggests something to this effect (více méně neco v tomto duchu naznačuje) ‘; as you might guess the letter did not say ‘Hang in there, Václav’ or something to that effect). Most importantly, the interview conceeds that the Treaty will come into force because ‘the train has picked up such speed that it cannot now be stopped or turned back…’ but it is not the end of history: ‘the dispute over freedom and democracy in Europe will surely continue. It must continue, otherwise things will turn out very badly for us’. Lutta continua.

But check out carefully what he says, or rather doesn’t say. He doesn’t say he will sign the Treaty or even mention himself signing it. This might, of course, be simple facing saving. The iimage of Europe’s arch eurosceptic and last man standing putting his name to the hated document may simple be too much to put into words, especially for those who make up Klaus’s (now rather limited) domestic political base. It is perfectly conceivable, however, that the President himself is pragmatic and hardheaded enough to do having stood out against it as Last Man Standing and dragged out final ratification for a few more months. Klaus has in the past been prepared to do pragmatic deals with domestic political opponents including the Czech Republic’s reviled Communist Party, so why not with the rest of Europe? In the interview, he certainly realistically – and for the first time – accepts that Treaty is likely to come into force. Perhaps he has made an assessment that the countries main parties will get their act together and sink their differences sufficiently to constitutionally strip him of some powers, if he holds out too long. His departure as leader of ODS in 2002 showed a similar sudden pragmatism when he realised the odds had clearly shifted against him.

The five question interview i(no probing interrogation, this; more of a brief audience) however, a classic piece of Klaus position shifting (he accepts the Treaty will probably come into force) combined with well crafted ambiguities that seem to say one thing, but – on closer reading – don’t actually. Domestically, will he actually sign the Treaty or perhaps negotiate for some form of ratification without his signature? There is, as mentioned, a view (and a fewlegal precedents) for legislation and international agreements coming into force without a presidential signature? He is and will not be waiting for the British elections (consciously or a tactic) but what if things happen to end up dragging out that long anyway despite VK’s newly reasonable and realistic views as confided to Lidové noviny ? The Czech Constitutional Court needs to rule (decision slated for 27 October and it can (although probably won’t) surprise, the EU’s politicians still have to negotiate a quick fix to Klaus’s objections at their summit. Will they be quick enough? Slovakia’s Prime Minister Robert Fico has already suggested that it the Czechs get a Beneš Decrees opt-out, well, darn it, the Slovaks want one too. Cue Slovak-Hungarian difficulties.

Perhaps Klaus will end up with his opt-opt signed, sealed and quickly delivered on on a plate, but ‘end up’ is really the key word here: Klaus is taking things move-by-move playing his way through an end game in a match that he knows he will probably lose, waiting for a sudden slip-up by tied opponents or a sudden turn of events which will generate a position that no one anticipatied

The interview – and,what it seems to say – is also a brilliant tactical move in deflating the mounting Europe-wide and domestic pressure, winning a brathing space and putting opponents off guard.

Checkmate in how many moves?

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