Czech president says Lisbon too far gone to block

PRAGUE Sat Oct 17, 2009 4:07pm IST

Czech Republic President Vaclav Klaus gestures as he speaks during an economic conference at a hotel in Warsaw in this June 5, 2009 file photo. REUTERS/Kacper Pempel/Files

Czech Republic President Vaclav Klaus gestures as he speaks during an economic conference at a hotel in Warsaw in this June 5, 2009 file photo.

Credit: Reuters/Kacper Pempel/Files

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PRAGUE (Reuters) - The European Union's Lisbon reform treaty has progressed too far to stop, Czech President Vaclav Klaus, the bloc's sole remaining leader to sign the document, said in a newspaper interview on Saturday.

The staunch eurosceptic stunned the 27-member bloc this month when he demanded an opt-out clause to shield the Czech Republic from property claims from ethnic Germans expelled from the country after World War Two.

But on Saturday, he told Lidove Noviny that, despite his continued opposition to the charter, it was too late to stop it.

"I do not consider the Lisbon Treaty to be a good thing for Europe, for the freedom of Europe, or for the Czech Republic," Klaus told Lidove Noviny.

"However, the train has already travelled so fast and so far that I guess it will not be possible to stop it or turn it around, however much we would wish to."

Klaus sees the treaty as an attempt to create a European super-state that will rob nations of their sovereignty.

He is waiting for a ruling by the Constitutional Court on a challenge to the treaty filed by a group of Czech Senators before signing. The court will hold a hearing on Oct. 27.

Last week, Klaus's office said he would demand an exception to the treaty similar to those received by countries like Poland and Ireland.

That raised concern that such a change could require new negotiations and ratification among all EU members, an extremely difficult task since the approval process is finished in the remaining 26 EU states.

But on Saturday he indicated that was not his aim.

"I never said that is necessary that my 'footnote' would have to be ratified by all member states, along with the whole Lisbon treaty again," he said.

"Similar to that, I have never said that guarantees similar to those that the European Council gave to the Irish... would not be sufficient for me."

Ireland's guarantee reiterated its neutrality, taxation and abortion laws would not be undermined by the Lisbon Treaty.

He said, as in the Irish case, such a guarantee would have no legal force until the next treaty -- expected to be a deal allowing Croatia's accession -- came up for ratification by all member states.

Klaus also dismissed speculation that he could be trying to stall approval of the treaty until the next British election so that the opposition Conservatives, who are expected to win, could launch a referendum and topple Lisbon.

"I will not and cannot wait for the British election. They would have to hold it in the coming days or weeks," Klaus said.

His last minute opposition has resounded with voters in the Czech Republic, where anxiety over the post-war expulsion of the 3 million Sudeten Germans still surfaces.

A poll showed this week that 65 percent of Czechs backed Klaus because they feared laws expelling Germans could be circumvented.

(Reporting by Michael Winfrey; Editing by Louise Ireland)

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