Sat Mar 21st, 2009 at 07:47:18 AM EST
The Czech Republic is a troublemaker in the EU on two prominent issues: it is one of the four countries where the ratification process wasn't finished, and its conservative government wants to host a missile defense radar base of the USA.
After votes were delayed on both, in Reasons for despair: Lisbon Missile Treaty, Colman asks, how and why the ratification of the Lisbon Treaty was made conditional on a military treaty with the US in the Czech Republic?
The answer I found is worth a separate diary. For, the current events are the result of a strategy by the opposition's leader, which could lead to a change on both issues: a rejection of the radar base agreement, and a passing of the Lisbon Treaty -- by referendum!
This is a complete reversal of the situation we are used to: Jiří Paroubek wants to break a Eurosceptic blocking minority in the Senate by going to the people, and top Eurosceptic Václav Klaus is not amused.
The players of the game
- PM Mirek Topolánek, of the right-liberal main governing party ODS (Civic Democrats), is advocating the hosting of the radar base, but also, after a change of mind, he put the Lisbon Treaty on the agenda last year.
- Slightly on the first issue but especially on the second, the PM is opposed by President Klaus, who still has many like-minded in the party he resigned from recently.
- The leadership of the main opposition party ČSSD (Social Democrats), topped by once and possible future PM Jiří Paroubek, is a strong supporter of the Lisbon Treaty (though the lower ranks and voters less so), and got on the anti-radar-base bandwagon.
- The smaller government parties and ODS splinters are generally pro-Lisbon and were dragged along reluctantly on the radar bases.
- The smaller opposition party, the Communists, are mirrored: strongly opposed to the radar bases, but may be dragged along on Lisbon; they'd like a referendum on both issues.
As for the population at large:
Approval (blue) and disapproval (red) of the radar bases (source: CVVM):
Approval (dark/light green in the top right quadrant), disapproval (red/yellow in the bottom right quadrant) of the ratification of the Lisbon Treaty, as well as the undecided (grey on the left) (source: CVVM):
Now, to recap the events:
Radars & Lisbon 1st round: Senate - Chamber of Deputies 1:1
The upper house of the Czech Parliament, the Senate, approved the radar base treaties last November, but the vote in the lower house, the Chamber of Deputies, was held up for fear of failure.
Then, those in the ODS who shared Topolánek's mad Atlanticism, but also Klaus's mad Euroscepticism, created the link-up between the issues:
Czech Chamber unlikely to vote on Lisbon treaty in early February - ČeskéNoviny.cz [an article title that failed to be prophetic]:
A consent of at least part of the Civic Democrats is necessary for the Lisbon treaty to be ratified in both houses of parliament. However, ODS lawmakers point to the conclusion of their December national congress that recommended that the Czech-U.S. treaties on the stationing of a U.S. missile defence radar base on Czech soil should first be ratified.
Even so, on Lisbon, PM Topolánek clearly doesn't have a majority within his own party. The lower house approval last month:
Lower house says Yes to Lisbon but battle looms in Senate - 18-02-2009 15:48 UTC - Radio Prague
Czech MPs bowed to the inevitable on Wednesday morning and said Yes – many of them reluctantly – to Lisbon. 125 of the 197 MPs present voted in favour, just five votes more than the minimum needed for a constitutional majority. 61 MPs voted against the treaty, over half of them from the conservative Civic Democrats hostile to any further European integration.
Back then, the idea was:
So the Lisbon Treaty now goes to the Senate, although senators won’t begin discussing it until April.
However, apparently, Topolánek had a tricky strategy: bringing the Senate Lisbon vote forward, and delaying the risky Chamber of Deputies radar base vote.
Radars & Lisbon 2nd round: cancelled
This past week however, nothing went according to the PM's strategy. The opposition got a window of opportunity thanks to a domestic scandal:
Opposition launches new attempt to topple the government - 18-03-2009 15:28 UTC - Radio Prague
On Monday, Czech TV broadcast a recording of Prime Minister Mirek Topolánek’s right-hand man trying to convince a reporter to drop a story which could be damaging to a former opposition MP who now supports the coalition. Now the opposition has struck back, saying they would try and topple the government in a vote of no-confidence next week. The Social Democrat leader Jiří Paroubek [said]...
“The methods of Prime Minister Topolánek and his associate Mr Dalík have exceeded all tolerable limits of democratic society. We have witnessed further mafia practices of Mr Topolánek’s government and his collaborators. These have been an unacceptable intervention into the independence of the media and the independence of police investigation.”
(As a reminder: after the last general elections, there was a perfect stalemate in the Chamber of Deputies -- "resolved" by the defection of three ČSSD deputies for suspicious reasons.)
So, what did ČSSD do? They want a vote of no confidence next week, and went on attack already on the same day:
The coalition came under pressure in Parliament on Tuesday, with two of their MPs sick and two ministers away. The opposition took advantage of the situation and managed to attach the radar treaties with the US to the agenda – with good prospects of voting them down.
...in which case, Topolánek would have to face a much wider rebellion among his senators on Lisbon. So the government pulled the vote on the radar base treaties and put the Lisbon vote in limbo.
The referendum bet
Now, while the ČSSD's action seems opportunistic, I find that it apparently fits into a longer-term strategy. From the start of February, two weeks before the Chamber of Deputies Lisbon vote:
Czech opposition thinking of Lisbon referendum - press - ČeskéNoviny.cz
Prague - Jiri Paroubek, leader of the opposition Social Democrats (CSSD), has conceded that a referendum on the Lisbon treaty could be held in the Czech Republic, daily Mlada fronta Dnes (MfD) writes today.
Paroubek hopes that he could thus win over some rebels from the Civic Democratic Party (ODS, senior coalition government member) and with them topple its shaky government through a no confidence vote, MfD writes.
Paroubek is thinking of holding the referendum along with early elections, perhaps in the autumn, MfD writes.
He was thinking of it already back then. Now, how does the Lisbon calculation look from the ČSSD's viewpoint? Methinks it looks good: they even have two options.
From the failed prophecy article:
The CSSD, KDU-CSL and the Open Democracy senators' group are pushing for the ratification of the document. They have 42 votes in the 81-member upper house but at least 49 votes are necessary to ratify the treaty.
ODS has/had 35 senators, that's a blocking minority even if Communists (3) and Greens (1) could be convinced and ČSSD senators showed party discipline. However, splitting off pro-Lisbon ODS senators would be less of a risky game for a future PM Paroubek, than trying to win a vote against the large majority of his own senators for PM Topolánek. And if that fails?
"If I see that there is no other way toward the approval and ratification of the treaty, we will embark on it," Paroubek has told the paper.
Paroubek said he believed that the general public would approve the treaty in a referendum, while its critics are of the view that it might give them a chance of rejecting it, MfD writes.
However, at least one prominent opponent seems to agree with Paroubek...
The view of Eurosceptical Klaus was conveyed by Martin Erva, from the press department of the Presidential Office: "The vote takes place in the parliament, such speculations are useless."
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So, to conclude: at the end of this mess, the Czech Republic might both approve Lisbon even against Klaus's machinations, and get rid of the radar bases!