Czechs say they are ready for Lisbon deal

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The Independent Online

The Czech government said yesterday it will discuss with other European Union members how to overcome demands by President Vaclav Klaus which are holding up the introduction of the EU's Lisbon Treaty.

Klaus's refusal to sign the treaty, which has already been approved by both houses of parliament, means the Czech Republic is the only EU country yet to complete ratification of a charter meant to streamline decision-making in the 27-nation bloc.

The Eurosceptic leader stunned the EU as well as the Czech cabinet last week by saying the country must secure an opt-out from part of the treaty, which he said was necessary to protect Czechs from possible property claims by Germans expelled from the country after World War Two.

Klaus's last-minute demand is a big stumbling block towards ratification, and EU diplomats in Brussels expect Fischer to explain the Czech position there tomorrow.

Prime Minister Jan Fischer said the government regretted Klaus did not raise his demand sooner, but was ready to seek a solution if Klaus pledges he will have no further conditions.

"The government declares its willingness to discuss a possible solution to this situation with its European partners," Fischer told a news conference.

When the treaty was being negotiated, Britain and Poland won opt-outs on the application of some of the provisions of a Charter of Fundamental Rights which will be given binding force when the Lisbon treaty is ratified.

But a similar opt-out would be difficult to secure this late in the process, because it could require new ratification in all the other EU member states. Fischer said this was impossible.

"The government is prepared to take this non-standard move, although it considers the re-opening of the ratification process in fellow EU member states impossible," he said.