Thursday, July 03, 2008

Just "a question of when"

This is the view of German chancellor Angela Merkel, when asked on France 24 about the Polish ratification of the constitutional Lisbon treaty.

Her comment followed the news that Poland's President Lech Kaczynski had announced that he would only sign the ratification papers if Ireland approved the treaty in a new referendum. "If Ireland makes another decision - but not under pressure, and without changing its constitution - in the same way as the first, then Poland will not place a block on the treaty," he said.

In Poland, the move is being seen as domestic politicking by Kaczynski, trying to strengthen the role of the Polish presidency at the expense of the government. Others say it was about a campaign between Kaczynski and Prime Minister Donald Tusk over who will be elected president in two years.

Merkel is sailing above it all, saying that she is "confident" about the future of the treaty, although she does also have problems a little closer to home. Her own president, Horst Koehler, has also decided that he will not sign up until the German constitutional court has ruled on "legal challenges to the text."

The presidency, said Koehler has decided to heed a request from the Constitutional Court not to add his signature to the embattled reform treaty pending its ruling. "The president is respecting the request of the Constitutional Court," his office said in a statement.

The adoption of the treaty is being challenged by The Left, a radicial left-wing opposition party, and a member of the ultra-conservative Christian Social Union. And the court has not yet set a date to rule on the challenges.

With Sarkozy spitting out his dummy over the Irish, we now learn that the aim is to "have an escape hatch" prepared by the European Council in October, aiming to sway the Irish by offering them "political commitments". This would probably focus on guaranteeing the Irish a permanent seat in the European commission.

The French president's office is equally robust about Kaczynski, a senior Elysée source describing him as "difficult". "He has never been a particularly easy partner to work with in building and shaping Europe," the official. "I can't imagine how the [Polish] president can go against the will of the parliament. It's odd."

The main sanction being deployed is the threat to withhold agreement on any future enlargement, with Bernard Kouchner, the French foreign minister, convinced that this will sort out Czech president Vaclav Klaus. "The Czechs will be persuaded in the end. Otherwise there can be no more enlargement," Kouchner says. "If [the Czechs] dig in their heels, they will start their presidency [in January] in great isolation," is the Elysée view – something which seems to Paris totally beyond the pale.

Czech deputy prime minister, Alexandr Vondra, is not taking it lying down. "We're not blocking anything," he retorts, calling for an end to the "mudslinging" that has followed the rejection of the treaty. His government has already conveyed to the constitutional court its view that the treaty does not clash with the Czech constitution. Prime minister Mirek Topolanek reached that conclusion at a cabinet meeting last Friday, the daily Lidove Noviny reported. No basic aspects of the Czech constitutional order would be altered if the treaty came into effect.

Political comment from Ireland itself is muted. A planned state visit by Sarkozy has been postponed until 21 July due to "pressure of work" while Europe minister Dick Roche is refusing to comment on developments. "I don't think the background noises coming from different member states should in any way impact on the decision we have to make," he says. "We have to work out where we go from here."

Roche is sticking to the line that it is too early to talk about holding a second referendum until the completion of a €250,000 study into the reasons for the "no" vote. "We want to just get the study done," he declares, adding: "… the one thing that already comes across time and time again is that Irish people are very positive about Europe and have not turned eurosceptic."

Whether they remain "positive" after all these shenanigans remains to be seen, but the one thing remains certain. The race is on to pull the Irish into line before the Euro-elections next June. The "colleagues" cannot afford to let those elections become an unofficial referendum on the treaty. With the presidents-three: Czech, Pole and German not playing ball, it could be a close-run thing, although the "colleagues" are not going to go down without a fight.


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