Vaclav Klaus, the President of the Czech Republic, is a hero. Sound on Europe, sound on climate. I met him recently, at the Heartland Climate Conference in New York in March, where he gave the keynote speech. His book, “Blue Planet in Green Shackles” is a great read — and not only because he very kindly quotes my work in a footnote on page 34!
Now he is almost the last man standing between the EU and the full ratification of the Lisbon Treaty, aka the European Constitution. Both houses of the Czech parliament have ratified the wretched thing. Only Klaus now stands in its way. And he is courageously refusing to sign until other member-states, including Ireland, Germany and Poland have finally ratified. This takes real cojones. He is taking a lot of stick from europhile Czech parliamentarians, and may face a serious challenge.
But now he’s gone a stage further. With the support of some twenty or so Czech Senators, he’s bringing a case in the Czech Constitutional Court, challenging the Treaty. Win or lose, he stands to delay final ratification, and keep the Treaty in play — perhaps until a British General Election, after which we would expect Cameron to call the promised referendum.
Our friends in UKIP have a rather damaging theory about our position on Lisbon. They argue that Cameron’s promise of a referendum if the Treaty is not fully ratified was a calculated gamble, based on the assumption that it would be fully ratified, and the promise was therefore no more than a cheap gesture to the sceptics. Our position that if the Treaty is ratified “we will not let matters rest” is seen as a bit of a cop-out. Would an incoming Tory government (they ask) really want to spend its first year in a titanic row with Brussels?
I think it might. On the one hand, Cameron doesn’t want to “bang on” about Europe, sensing, perhaps rightly, that the British public, though they shared our view, were bored with it, and feared we had few policies on anything else. But that said, I believe that Cameron is a genuine sceptic, who wants to revolutionise Britain’s relationship with the EU. We may end up with something that we could loosely called “membership”, but which would look very unlike membership from the Brussels perspective. Perhaps even something like a free trade deal.
We have a Party Conference in October, only days after Ireland votes in its second referendum. Pray heaven they vote NO again. But if the pundits are right and Ireland votes Yes this time, there will be massive pressure on Cameron and the Party to explain just what “not letting it rest” means. I hope and expect we’ll be ready with a robust answer.
It would be so much easier for Cameron and the Party, though, if we were to form a government before full ratification, and get straight into a referendum. Klaus seems to be our last best hope. What a statesman. What a leader.