Swedish EU Presidency Still Hopes For Fruitful Summit

By Valentina Pop

The Swedish EU presidency is still hoping to fix the line-up of the new college of commissioners and the shape of the bloc's future diplomatic service at next week's summit. But the plans hang on a Czech court decision on the Lisbon Treaty.

"We hope the Lisbon Treaty comes into force as soon as possible, so we can continue the work with appointing a new European Commission," Swedish minister for European affairs Cecilia Malmstrom told MEPs in Strasbourg on Wednesday (21 October).

The commission's current term expires at the end of this month. But negotiations on the new team of commissioners have been hampered by Czech problems with ratification of the union's proposed new institutional rulebook.

The Czech constitutional court is currently examining a legal challenge on whether the Lisbon Treaty is compatible with national law. It is due to hold a hearing on the issue on 27 October, just two days before the EU summit on 29 October.

Ms Malmstrom said she expects the court to "reach a verdict very soon after that, but we don't have a date yet."

The Lisbon Treaty has been ratified by the Czech parliament but the country's president, Vaclav Klaus, has said he will not sign off the document until after the court decision. He has also put in an 11th hour demand for the Czech Republic to get an opt-out from a human rights charter attached to the treaty.

Ms Malmstrom said the presidency was preparing a report to be presented to the EU leaders at the summit, which will include an update on the Czech situation and proposals for the set-up of the new EU diplomatic corps.

Speaking at the same EU parliament debate on Wednesday, EU commission president Jose Manuel Barroso appealed for EU leaders to "take up their responsibilities" at the upcoming summit.

"There must be a recognition of urgency, a realisation that there will be a real cost to Europe for as long as the EU institutions cannot function properly," he said. The commission can still go on in a caretaker capacity after its mandate ends on 31 October, but with limited powers.

The leader of the Liberal MEPs, Guy Verhofstadt, said that the EU presidency should not "wait" and see what the Czech president does, but should instead move ahead with the appointment of a new EU commission and with agreeing a job description for the new European Council president and the diplomatic corps.

MalmstromIn reply, Ms Malmstrom rejected any suggestions that the Swedish presidency was in stand-by mode, insisting that there is "intensive" telephone diplomacy between Stockholm and Prague.

"We hope that very soon we'll be able to give a more detailed answer to what is going to happen to the treaty and when. We are very anxious for everything to be settled, both concerning the senior posts and list of commissioners which will be put forward to the European Parliament for hearings," she said.
Klaus opt-out possible

Two German MEPs specialising in constitutional affairs - Socialist MEP Jo Leinen and Christian-Democrat MEP Elmar Brok - said that the Czech opt-out request should be easy to accommodate in a political statement at the end of next week's summit.

They argued that since the EU charter on human rights only applies to future community law, it should be easy to reassure Mr Klaus that the charter would not threaten historic Czech legislation.

Mr Klaus had called for the opt-out on the basis that ethnic Germans expelled from the then Czechoslovakia after World War II could use the charter to claim back property.

The Czech demand has prompted a similar request from Slovakia.

Neither Ms Malmstrom nor Mr Barroso made any comments on Slovakia. But Joseph Daul, the head of the centre-right European People's Party in the parliament, congratulated the Swedish presidency for "making it clear" to other states that Klaus type opt-outs cannot be granted to EU countries which have already completed ratification, as is the case with Slovakia.