Václav Klaus, the president of the Czech Republic, is threatening to thwart the ambitions of Sweden's presidency of the EU to see the Lisbon treaty take effect before the end of the year. If he lives up to his threat, the appointment of the next European Commission could be delayed until 2010.
Sweden wants to see the provisions of the Lisbon treaty pushed through as swiftly as possible if Ireland votes to approve the treaty in its 2 October referendum. Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt, who presides over the European Council until the end of the year, said he wanted to see the EU “move over to the Lisbon treaty, if possible, late in our presidency”.
Reinfeldt has high hopes for the next scheduled meeting of the European Council, on 29-30 October. He wants the leaders of the EU's member states to nominate a president of the European Council and a new high representative for foreign and security policy who is also to be a vice-president of the Commission – posts that are created by the Lisbon treaty.
In addition, he wants the Council to approve the list of those nominated by the member states to be European commissioners. His ambition is that the European Parliament would then hold hearings for the commissioners at the start of November and vote on the entire Commission line-up, including José Manuel Barroso as president, before the end of November. This would enable the new Commission, the president of the European Council and the high representative to start work in December.
The timetable assumes that the Parliament goes ahead with approving the reappointment of Barroso as Commission president, even though the Socialist group is threatening to defer a vote from September to October.
Carl Bildt, Sweden's foreign minister, said on Tuesday (21 July) that the EU should get the institutional changes under the Lisbon treaty in place as soon as possible. He highlighted the importance of having a vote on Barroso in September. “We have a fairly heavy agenda of issues. We need more institutional certainty,” he said.
The Swedish timetable also assumes that Germany will have completed ratification of the Lisbon treaty, with the approval, scheduled for the end of September, of a new law on the role of the German parliament in implementing the treaty.
Poland's President Lech Kaczyn´ski is expected to sign the treaty, completing his country's ratification, once the result of the Irish referendum is known.
But EU officials are worried that Klaus could upset the timetable by delaying signing the treaty into Czech law beyond October. Seventeen senators, either Civic Democrats or independents who support Klaus, are planning to refer the Lisbon treaty to the country's constitutional court at the start of August.
They will be asking for a second time if it complies with the Czech constitution. Klaus would be able to delay signing the ratification document until the court had given its verdict.
Andrew Duff, a UK Liberal MEP with a strong interest in constitutional affairs, said that Klaus was “running out of plausible legal ploys to procrastinate further”.
A delay might prevent the European Council reaching agreement at the end of October on the new appointments. Because the high representative is also a member of the College of European commissioners, the choices will be linked.
Barroso said in Strasbourg last week: “We can only move on to the composition of the Commission once we have clarity on the treaty base.”
EU diplomats and MEPs hope that the treaty might still come into force on 1 January 2010, with the new appointees also taking office in January. The mandate of the current Commission expires on 31 October, so the existing Commission would have to continue in a caretaker role until a new line-up is appointed.