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Czech lower house approves Lisbon Treaty

PRAGUE – The European Union’s troubled Lisbon reform treaty cleared the lower house of the Czech parliament Wednesday – the first stage of its often delayed road to ratification by the nation that now holds the rotating EU presidency.

"Today, the Chamber of Deputies granted its consent with the ratification of the Lisbon Treaty after a vote of 125 for and 61 against," announced Alexandr Vondra, deputy prime minister for European affairs.

"I welcome this result as a significant step in the Czech Lisbon Treaty ratification process," he said. "It is a responsible step preceded by a thorough, democratic debate."

It remains for the Senate to greenlight the treaty, and for President Vaclav Klaus, an outspoken eurosceptic, to put his signature to it.

All eyes will then swing back to Ireland, where the treaty – designed to streamline EU decision-making in the wake of the bloc’s enlargement – is due to be put to a second referendum in November, following its shock rejection by voters in 2008.

Building on earlier EU treaties, the Lisbon Treaty would notably create the position of a full-time president of the European Union, enhance the powers of the European Parliament and make the Charter of Fundamental Rights legally binding throughout the 27-nation bloc.

In the Czech Republic, which holds the six-month EU presidency until the end of June, the treaty has been subjected in parliament to hours of speeches as well as postponements in December and January.

In the end, it got five more votes than the constitutional majority of 120 votes required to clear the 200-seat lower house.

About half of the ruling right-wing Civic Democrats teamed up with two smaller ruling coalition parties and the opposition Social Democrats – staunch supporters of the treaty – to push it through.

The junior opposition Communists voted against, after they had called for a referendum on the text.

A recent public opinion poll suggested that more than six in 10 Czechs want lawmakers to ratify the treaty, amid concern that national prestige would suffered otherwise.

Vondra recalled that full parliamentary ratification involves consent from the Senate, which is conditioning its approval of the treaty on a mechanism to control the transfer of national powers to Brussels.

But he added: "I believe that this requirement of the Senate will be satisfied as soon as possible and that the upper chamber of the Czech parliament will join the Chamber of Deputies in giving the green light to the Lisbon Treaty."

That said, the process could take long, as the Civic Democrats – who pushed through the two postponements in the lower house – are the strongest party in the Senate.

Civic Democrat senators had challenged the treaty in the Constitutional Court in June 2008, resulting in a delay of several months in the ratification process.

The court ruled in November that the treaty complies with the Czech constitution, despite fierce protests from Klaus who said it poses a threat to Czech sovereignty.

Klaus has suggested he will delay ratification for as long as possible, following the example of Polish President Lech Kaczynski who is also reluctant to sign the treaty despite its endorsement by the Polish parliament.

Recent public opinion polls in Ireland have indicated the treaty will win approval at the upcoming referendum, with support growing as the island nation’s economic situation deteriorates.

[AFP / Expatica]