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Czech president demands EU treaty opt out

09 October 2009, 21:56 CET
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Czech president demands EU treaty opt out

Vaclav Klaus - Photo EU Council

(PRAGUE) - Czech President Vaclav Klaus on Friday called for the EU's Lisbon reform treaty to prevent ethnic Germans forced out of his country after World War II from claiming back their property.

Klaus, a staunch eurosceptic and the last European Union leader holding out on signing the treaty, made this a condition for ratifying the text designed to streamline decision-making in the 27-nation bloc.

The request will probably further delay the ratification process, but top Czech and EU officials said they still believed the treaty will be fully ratified by the end of the year.

The Czech Republic must have "an exception," said Klaus, otherwise, the Charter of Fundamental Rights in the treaty will make it possible "to bypass Czech courts and enforce the property claims of people expelled after World War II at the European Court of Justice."

Klaus said he was worried the charter might contradict postwar decrees in the former Czechoslovakia, which enabled authorities to seize the property of ethnic Germans and Hungarians and expel them on the grounds that they had collaborated with the Nazis.

Klaus, who refuses to fly the EU flag outside his official residence and who said on Friday the treaty would "worsen the position of our country and expose it to new risks," did not consult the Czech government over the request.

But he pointed at Poland and Britain, which obtained similar exemptions on the charter in their negotiations in 2007.

Catholic Poland received EU assurances that the charter would not force it to allow gay marriage, while Britain was assured that European laws and courts would not prevail over its own judicial system.

"In these two countries, the legislation set in the charter will still be governed by their own laws," said Klaus.

European parliament head Jerzy Buzek said after talks with Klaus in Prague that the president wanted the Czech Republic side by side with Poland and Great Britain in the opt-out "Protocol 30" of the charter.

"The president came up with a very specific proposal -- to include the Czech Republic in the protocol... in the same place as Poland and Great Britain," he said.

Prime Minister Frederik Reinfeldt of Sweden, current holder of the EU presidency, said on Thursday Klaus had asked for a "footnote" to be approved by the EU leaders in what looked like another delay to the ratification.

The news puzzled the EU, optimistic after the Irish approved the treaty in a referendum last weekend and after Polish President Lech Kaczynski said he would sign the text, which must be ratified by all 27 members to take effect.

But Buzek said he was optimistic about ratification.

"I explained that (the exception) should be approved and supported... by 27 countries... but I think the situation is much more clear than it was a few days ago and I will do everything to find a solution," he said.

"We had some examples from the past that this can be done," added Buzek, who is to meet Reinfeldt and European Commission chief Jose Manuel Barroso in Warsaw on Saturday as Kaczynski signs the treaty.

"I hope the treaty will take effect by the year-end," he said in unison with Czech Prime Minister Jan Fischer, who said he and Klaus would "look for a solution that would not cast doubt on the main goal -- ratification by the end of the year."

Klaus also said he believed that "this exception can be resolved fast."

He would not be able to sign the treaty at once anyway, since the top Czech court banned him from ratification pending its verdict on the text's compliance with the constitution. This is expected to take at least two weeks.

The treaty's supporters were concerned that delays by Klaus may allow British opposition leader David Cameron to hold a referendum on the text if his Conservatives win the next British general election, to be held by June 2010.

But Klaus said last weekend that "the people of Britain should have been doing something much earlier, not just now. It's too late to say something and wait for my decision."

Facts about the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights

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