MAYNOOTH, IRELAND – For months, the European Union has been battered by economic storms that now seriously threaten a protracted Europe-wide recession. But, although banking and finance have taken center stage, the EU’s constitutional problem refuses to go away.
The Irish rejection of the Lisbon Treaty in June plunged the EU into a renewed period of uncertainty about the Union’s future. Now, in the run-up to the European Council summit on 11-12 December, expectations are growing that Irish Prime Minister Brian Cowen will provide a clear roadmap for an Irish solution to the EU’s constitutional dilemma.
Pragmatists acknowledge that the ratification crisis set in train by the Irish rejection of the Lisbon Treaty has grown into a wider European problem. The Irish “No” emboldened Euro-skeptics in other member states, not least the irascible Czech president, Václav Klaus, who has signaled that he may refuse to sign the Lisbon Treaty until Ireland’s ratification is secured. With the Czech Republic set to assume the presidency of the EU on January 1, 2009, there is a distinct fear that Klaus will use his position as Czech head of state to try to sabotage efforts to rescue the Lisbon Treaty.
These concerns remain acute, even in the aftermath of the decision by the Czech Constitutional Court on November 26 that the Lisbon Treaty is compatible with the Czech constitution and can be ratified in the normal way by the Czech Parliament. But the current constellation of Czech political forces is finely balanced between pro-Treaty and anti-Treaty forces. So the inter-linkage between the ratification crises in Ireland and the Czech Republic is now explicit and threatens to spill over into the wider EU arena in 2009.