Tony Barber All eyes on Prague as Czech senators vote on Lisbon treaty

Here I am in Prague – a disappointingly wet Prague, for early May – as tensions mount ahead of a vote in the Czech Senate on the European Union’s Lisbon treaty. Officials in the government of Prime Minister Mirek Topolanek, which collapsed in March but will not finally leave office until Friday, appear confident that the Senate, parliament’s upper house, will approve the treaty – probably by late afternoon today (Wednesday).

But if that’s what happens, it won’t be thanks to any stirring oratory from Topolanek. Speaking to the senators just now, he’s said that he isn’t a passionate enthusiast for the Lisbon treaty, but ”it’s the price for membership of the club”.

The Czech parliament’s lower house approved the treaty in February, and if the Senate follows suit it will be mighty difficult for President Vaclav Klaus, the Lisbon-hating head of state, to avoid completing the ratification procedure by adding his signature. Then it will be all down to the Irish and their second referendum on Lisbon, expected in October.

But perhaps we shouldn’t get too far ahead of ourselves. The Senate vote is in many ways unpredictable, with 81 seats in the chamber and the treaty needing the support of two-thirds of the senators present for the vote. Some Czechs say that enough senators are ashamed of the way the six-month Czech EU presidency disintegrated after the fall of Topolanek’s government that they will want to redeem themselves, and their country, by approving Lisbon.

However, behind the curtains, Klaus still exerts considerable influence on the Czech political stage, particularly on the centre-right. A Klaus-sprung surprise cannot be entirely ruled out.

After all, this is the man who on Monday chaired an EU-Japan summit in Prague at which the main theme was European and Japanese efforts to reach a world agreement on fighting climate change at a December conference in Copenhagen. After the summit, Klaus, who loves to ridicule the international scientific consensus on global warming, said of the EU-Japanese talks: “The discussion was at a level that I had no motivation to enter… The general level of the debate was quite acceptable for me, even if I’m convinced there’s no global warming and there’s almost no man-made global warming.”

You could almost feel the pain of José Manuel Barroso, the European Commission president, as he stood in stoical silence next to Klaus. As for Japanese Prime Minister Taro Aso, he could have been forgiven for wondering: What was the point of my trip from Tokyo, if the guy chairing this summit disagrees with everything we’ve been talking about?