The two politicians have tended to be regarded as twin-like stubborn Eurosceptics, the last obstacles to the ratification of the Lisbon treaty. Still, on Saturday, Poland’s Lech Kaczynski put his pen to paper and ratified the widely expected treaty, formally justifying it with “the will of the Irish people”. At the same time, the Czech Republic’s Vaclav Klaus, who refuses to fly the EU flag outside his presidential residence, remains petrified in his opposition to Lisbon, even if now he stands alone. Those developments clearly show that Kaczynski’s and Klaus’s political agenda, despite apparent similarities, is actually quite different, and impossible to grasp fully without taking into account their political background in Warsaw and Prague.
Regarding President Kaczynski’s unexpected decision, perhaps taking a look at the election calendar in Poland can shed some light on it. In October 2010, Kaczynski is expected to run for another term as president, and his most likely rival will be the incumbent prime minister Donald Tusk, who has been in office since 2007, when his party defeated the Kaczynski brothers’ Law and Justice party (PiS). As every single poll gives Tusk a vast advantage over Kaczynski, the latter has to convince the voters that he is a politician of the centre, and not of the extremes. That, given his past record, will not be an easy task. Still, using Lisbon for promoting a friendlier, pro-European image, as advised by his spin doctors, obviously increases the president’s chances of re-election.
A huge majority of the Poles perceives the president’s opposition to Lisbon as yet another sign of his aversion to the European Union and its federal ambitions. If Kaczynski followed the steps of Klaus, and Poland was subjected to the same amount of pressure that had been exerted on Ireland prior to 2 October, the overwhelmingly pro-European Poles would be unlikely to provide him with another five-year term. The Polish far right’s recent disappearance from mainstream politics allows both the president and his party to shift safely towards the centre, now that law and justice’s hegemony on the right is unchallenged.
Klaus, on the other hand, plays the same game from an utterly different position. As he has already been twice elected president by parliament, Klaus’s career will die a natural death in 2013 if he does not find a way to reinvent his role on the Czech political scene. The centre-right Civic Democratic Party (ODS), which he founded, seems reluctant to endorse its former leader’s ideas, and it is very unlikely that Klaus would step into any important political office after he ends his second presidential mandate. Becoming a widely recognised martyr of the Lisbon treaty would surely help Klaus reposition himself in politics, launch a Eurosceptic party, or perhaps even head some new pan-European movement.
Contrary to his own party’s position, Klaus had steered six ODS senators to file a complaint against the Lisbon treaty with the Czech constitutional court. This move indisputably derailed the treaty’s ratification for at least a few weeks, if not months, but the Czech president knows that the court’s decision will presumably affirm the treaty’s legality.
Today’s emergency session of the Czech cabinet is seen by many as the last resort to overcoming the power crisis. If the president is not persuaded finally to sign the treaty, the government may reach for more decisive and spectacular measures, including a senate lawsuit against president Klaus for conduct against the constitutional order.
In anticipation of the court’s verdict, Klaus has set out his conditions to Brussels. Not only that he wants to obtain exemptions on the EU’s charter of fundamental rights for his country, just as Poland and the UK previously did, but he also demands that a few sentences which, in his opinion, will secure the Czech Republic against eventual lawsuits from the descendants of the Carpathian Germans, expelled from the country after the second world war, be added to the very same charter. Needless to say, if these requests are followed, the whole ratification process will probably have to be relaunched in all 27 member states.
Several commentators have suggested that some sort of secret accord exists between Klaus and the British Conservatives. According to this scenario, the Czech president would delay Lisbon’s deliberation until the UK’s upcoming general election and the Tories’ expected victory. Then, if David Cameron decides to allow for a referendum, as he had pledged earlier this year, the treaty’s fate would be at stake once again.
Still, this theory seems dubious. The bottom line is that above all, Vaclav Klaus was never much of a team player.
Jaroslaw Adamowski, a freelance writer who divides his time between Warsaw and Istanbul.