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Czech President Suggests He Won't Block Lisbon Treaty

Czech President Vaclav Klaus.

Czech President Vaclav Klaus.

PRAGUE -- Czech President Vaclav Klaus opened the way to resolve his last-minute objection to the European Union's Lisbon reform treaty, saying the charter had progressed too far for him to block it.

Klaus, the sole EU leader yet to ratify the treaty, stunned the 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.

The new hurdle raised concern it could require new talks and ratification among all EU members, threatening to undo years of delicate work among diplomats that has resulted in the treaty's approval by the remaining 26 EU states.

But on October 17, the staunch eurosceptic told newspaper Lidove Noviny that despite his continued opposition to the charter, it had gone too far for him 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 was quoted as saying.

"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."

The treaty is meant to streamline a decision making process made cumbersome since the EU's numbers jumped from 15 to 27 members and half a billion people when it expanded into ex-communist Europe this decade.

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

He must wait for a ruling by the Constitutional Court on a challenge to the treaty filed by a group of Czech senators before he can sign it. The court will hold a hearing on October 27.

Klaus's spokesman was not immediately available for comment.

Irish Exception, British Election

Klaus said last year he would not be the last man in Europe to stand in the way of the treaty, and its approval by Irish voters in a referendum this month appeared to pave the way for potential capitulation by the right-wing president.

But last week, he threw up a new hurdle, demanding an exception similar to those given to states like Poland and Ireland -- a move criticized by analysts and Czech media who said Klaus's foot-dragging could cast the country into diplomatic isolation.

On October 17, however, he appeared to open the way for a deal that would not require a lengthy renegotiation.

"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 that the treaty would not undermine its neutrality, taxation and abortion laws.

Klaus said, as in the Irish case, such a guarantee would have no legal force until the next treaty -- expected to allow Croatia's accession -- came up for ratification by EU members.

He 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.