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EU human rights opt-out


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EU ministers approve Klaus’ human rights opt-out bill

EU foreign ministers have given their approval for a Czech bill on an opt-out from the human rights charter in the Lisbon Treaty  

The EU’s foreign ministers have given provisional approval for the ratification of an opt-out from the EU Charter of Human Rights called for by Czech President Václav Klaus. If formally accepted, as is expected, the opt-out will be put to the Czech legislature at the same time as the bill on ratification of Croatia’s EU membership.   

The Czech opt-out was put forward by Klaus as a condition of his signing the bill of ratification of the Lisbon Treaty passed by the Czech parliament in 2009. His refusal to sign off on the bill before receiving assurances that the Czech Republic would be allowed to vote to on an opt-out from the Charter of Human Rights resulted in the country being the last EU member state to pass the treaty.

The issue will be put to the EU summit on October 23, but the vote by member states’ leaders should be a formality following approval approval by their respective foreign ministers in Luxembourg on Tuesday.

Beneš Decrees

Klaus had argued the Charter of Human Rights could be used to overrule the so-called Beneš Decrees, signed by Eduard Beneš, the second Czechoslovak president, which included provisions for the confiscation of the property and expulsion of millions of ethnic Germans following World War II.

Klaus said the Charter of Human Rights would open the way for Sudeten Germans and their descendents to demand the restitution of confiscated property in what is today the Czech Republic. Nevertheless, since the Czech ratification of the Lisbon Treaty, although the country has been subject to the provisions of the charter — because an opt-out has not yet been passed — to date no claims to property in the Czech Republic have been made by Sudeten Germans or their descendents.

Social Democrats opposed       

The main opposition center-left Social Democrats (ČSSD) have repeatedly called upon the government not to call for approval from Brussels to hold a vote on the Czech opt-out, but the coalition government led by Prime Minister Petr Nečas’ (Civic Democrats, ODS) ignored the opposition. The ČSSD has said it will vote against the opt-out. 

The bill on the ratification of the opt-out will be put to the Czech parliament at the same time as a bill on the ratification of Croatia’s entry to the EU. The two proposals will not, however, be presented as a single bill as was originally planned, which could have led to the ČSSD rejecting the bill although the party has consistently backed Croatia’s EU membership.

While the ČSSD is in minority in the lower house of Parliament (the Chamber of Deputies), in the Senate the party has a majority and could block the opt-out bill for a considerable length of time.

Related article: Czech opposition seeks separate Croatia, Lisbon votes

Politics & Policy, 11. October 2011

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