Countdown to the Brussels Summit III: Unborn EU Constitution Already Has First Prominent Rejector

As we’re all painfully aware, the Constitution (or, properly, “Constitutional Treaty”) for the European Union is still only in draft form. It awaits final approval (in whichever mutually-agreed altered form) from the governments of twenty-five member-states (present, and the ten of the immediate future) which is supposed to come out of the summit of heads-of-government starting this Friday in Brussels – “supposed to.” There will then follow ratification processes in all those twenty-five states, lasting through the first half of 2004, and themselves by no means assured of resulting in approval in all cases.

There’s a long road yet to go for the Constitution, then. Nonetheless, one EU head-of-state has already come out against it – or perhaps “future EU head-of-state” would be more accurate, since that was Czech President Václav Klaus, who on Monday declared Byl bych radsí, kdyby zadná taková ústava nebyla prijata, or “I would rather that no constitution of this sort be accepted.” (Sorry, Czech purists: as usual, some diacritics have had to be omitted.) He uttered this after a meeting at which Prime Minister Vladimir Spidla briefed him on the negotiating mandate the Czech delegation (headed by Spidla) will take into this weekend’s EU summit.

On the subject of Czech press coverage of this, I would like to start off with where there isn’t any, namely in Lidové noviny, which skipped Klaus’ declaration entirely. (Could this have to do with the fact that LN is the paper closest to Klaus – he wrote a regular column for it in his pre-presidential days – and that this anti-Constitution declaration might be viewed by some as embarrassing?)


This hardly means that Lidové noviny did not report on the issue of that upcoming summit and Klaus’ connection to it: In the article Klaus Doesn’t Want to Discuss the EU on Sunday Night the newspaper reported how President Klaus found the timing of a Czech cabinet meeting called to discuss the Czech negotiating mandate for Brussels (namely starting at 10:00 PM last Sunday night) rather inconvenient – as indeed did Agriculture Minister Jaroslav Palas and Environment Minister Libor Ambrozek, as LN reported in an accompanying article (Government Clears Up Its Position Towards Euro-Constitution). But it was Klaus alone who is independent enough from Spidla – and has the gumption, or some would say the gall – to put his sentiments down in a written statement, calling it “absolutely inconvenient that a meeting over matters of key importance to the Czech Republic should be held under extraordinary circumstances and what’s more on Sunday in the late evening hours.”

That’s what explains Spidla scheduling an hour the following day, Monday, to inform the President of what the cabinet had decided the night before. And it also clearly explains Klaus requiting Spidla’s gesture by mentioning, at a joint press-appearance after that briefing, what amounted to “I’m opposed to what you’re going to go meet in Brussels about, to what you’ve just briefed me about, anyway.”

Not that that should have come as such as a surprise, as Klaus’ reticent stand towards the European Union generally has been public knowledge for quite some time. (See €S coverage of last June, at the time of the Czech accession referendum here; and coverage of an interview with Klaus at that same time here.) At least in June Klaus did not reject Czech membership of the EU, nor did he urge citizens to vote against it in the referendum – although his grumpy manner at the time, whenever anyone had the nerve to try to extract some political position or statement about this vital question out of the Czech head-of-state, made it at least fairly clear how his personal vote in the referendum would go.


But now he has come out, early and clearly, against the Constitution. I find that the article in Právo (Klaus Doesn’t Want a European Constitution) gives the best coverage of where he is coming from. To Klaus, the proposed Constitution in his words, “means a very radical and striking [“razantní“] transformation of the current European order.” What’s more, that means that it makes the EU into a rather different thing than what the Czech electorate thought it was voting “Yes” to in last June’s referendum. Therefore, Klaus made it clear that he certainly supports the objectives laid down for the Czech negotiating team at Brussels to try to limit the expansion of the EU’s powers, especially to try to stifle attempts (such as the draft Constitution’s proposal for the “double majority” system for qualified-majority voting at the European Council) to make it easier to reach common decisions over the objections of a minority. Indeed, if he were in their position he would go even further than that – presumably to an attempt to make most or all of the subject-areas decided at the Council subject to unanimity.

But that doesn’t mean, then, that Klaus endorses the Czech negotiating position hammered out at that Sunday-night cabinet meeting, that was briefed to him on Monday. (Be patient, folks. Remember, this is Václav Klaus we’re dealing with here.) Hospodarske noviny explains (Klaus Refuses the [or “a” if you like] European Constitution) by providing Klaus’ follow-on words to the “I would rather that no constitution of this sort be accepted” quote I gave up-top: “I therefore cannot say that the mandate that the government gave the Czech delegation would literally be my mandate, [one] that I would welcome.” And that’s logical enough: if you don’t believe in any Constitution in the first place, then presumably by your lights the Czech delegation shouldn’t be trooping off to Brussels to discuss it with fellow member-states in the first place. Naturally, at that press conference on Monday after his briefing to Klaus, Premier Vladimir Spidla disagreed with all of this, but he was polite enough to express this obliquely, right after Klaus had made his “I would rather . . .” declaration: “I have made sure that it is in the interest of the Czech Republic to be in the mainstream of the European Union” – so sorry, Mr. President, but we’re off to Brussels.


HN also is the one paper to address the question of the effect Klaus’ declaration will have on the Czech referendum next June (again!) on the Constitution itself. According to Jan Hartl, director of the STEM polling agency, it could very well have an affect on some people’s voting, since Klaus is viewed favorably as president by much of Czech public opinion. Of course, he adds, it can’t have such an effect that it will change minds that are already made-up.

The interesting thing to me, though, is the relatively scarce coverage the Czech press devoted to this episode. Yes, some of the papers put Klaus’ stance in their headline, but then generally folded his statements into broader reporting on the Czech government’s preparations for next weekend. I get the picture here of old grandpa over there sounding off in the corner, right when the rest of the family has gotten together to try to make a decision – he’s got some mighty strange views, and he’s sure to express them in his cranky way, but as long as you are polite and say “Yes, grandpa” you can otherwise pretty much ignore him. Take the one pure on-line editorial I could find on the subject: Adam Cerny’s commentary piece for HN entitled What Are We Playing For in Brussels? (click on the “Kommentar” link) – nothing about Klaus is there, it talks solely about that Czech negotiating mandate – what the Czech Republic wants to get out of this weekend’s negotiations – which Klaus has made clear is not from him.

Sorry: I’m not going to talk about that mandate here (oh, they want 60%-60% “double majority” voting in the Council, instead of the proposed 50%-60% system, yadda yadda), because by now that’s already boring, and I did want to write about Klaus, and to suggest that he is regarded in the Czech press as this “eccentric old grandpa” figure, rather than as the EU head-of-state that he is who has already rejected the Constitution – which of course itself is already in enough trouble.

(Only Johanna Grohová, writing in Mladá fronta dnesI Don’t Want the [or “a” if you like: the Czech language is that way] European Constitution, says Klaus – pointed out that Klaus’ position is unique in the entire European Union. She also wrote that Klaus insisted that, for such an important topic as the Czech mandate to the Brussels summit, at least a whole day of meetings was called for, and not some late-night Sunday session. I think he’s correct there – but remember, that mandate doesn’t come from him!)

Digg This
Reddit This
Stumble Now!
Buzz This
Vote on DZone
Share on Facebook
Bookmark this on Delicious
Kick It on
Shout it
Share on LinkedIn
Bookmark this on Technorati
Post on Twitter
Google Buzz (aka. Google Reader)

Comments are closed.