European Union governments are increasingly confident that they will coax Vaclav Klaus, the recalcitrant Czech president, into signing the EU’s Lisbon treaty, but a deal is unlikely before leaders gather for a summit on Thursday and Friday, EU policymakers said on Monday.
“I wish this story could be over before the end of this week, but I don’t think it will be,” said one government official attending a pre-summit meeting of EU foreign ministers in Luxembourg.
Predicting that the fuss over Mr Klaus would soon be ended, he added: “We are in the middle of a footnote of history.”
Eye-catching EU reforms are poised to come into effect next year, provided that the Czech constitutional court delivers a positive ruling on Lisbon in coming days and Mr Klaus then signs the treaty. The court will hold a hearing on Tuesday, but it has not fixed a date for issuing its judgment.
The treaty’s reforms include the creation of the EU’s first long-term president and a head of foreign policy with enhanced powers – jobs over which informal contacts among governments are taking place every day, in anticipation that final Czech approval of the treaty is not far away.
David Miliband, the UK foreign secretary, told reporters in Luxembourg that Britain believed the EU needed a strong president – such as Tony Blair, its former prime minister– to maximise its worldwide influence. “Unless the EU gets its act together, people in Washington, New Delhi and Rio de Janeiro, never mind Beijing and Moscow, will conclude Europe isn’t ready to be the kind of partner they want,” he said.
Other governments, particularly those of smaller countries, remain unconvinced and are signalling that they would prefer a lower-profile and less controversial figure than Mr Blair.
Formal consultations over who should be appointed will not take place until EU leaders feel sure that Mr Klaus will not search for more excuses to delay signing the treaty. Mr Klaus’s resistance is in turn delaying the appointment of a new European Commission.
Sweden, which holds the EU’s rotating presidency, is negotiating with the Czech government over the terms of a declaration designed to ease the concerns that Mr Klaus professes to harbour about the treaty’s charter of fundamental rights.
It appears likely that EU leaders will draw up a statement reassuring the Czech Republic– and perhaps Slovakia, too – that the charter cannot be used as a cover for legal claims on property from ethnic Germans expelled from the former Czechoslovakia after 1945.
This statement would be incorporated into a forthcoming EU accession treaty.