BRUSSELS - Czech Prime Minister Jan Fischer told European Union leaders Wednesday it was just a matter of time before President Vaclav Klaus signs the EU's Lisbon treaty, the last big obstacle to reforms to give the bloc more clout.
Despite Fischer's reassurances, the president remained silent on the charter. Its fate lies largely in his hands following Ireland's approval of it last Friday but he has not said when, or whether, he will sign it.
Fischer reiterated after talks with EU leaders that he was confident Klaus would sign the treaty in time for it to be ratified by the end of this year but gave no indication he had won any firm assurances from the president on this.
I am fully and deeply convinced that there is no reason for anxiety in Europe. In the Czech Republic the problem is not whether yes or no, the question is when, Fischer said in an audio link-up with a Brussels news conference.
I believe that everything is in place for the ratification of the Lisbon treaty to be fully completed in the Czech Republic by the end of this year, he said.
An aircraft problem prevented Fischer flying to Brussels so he spoke by video conference to European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso, European Parliament President Jerzy Buzek and Swedish Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt, whose country holds the EU presidency until the end of this year.
ASSURANCES FROM KLAUS?
Only the Polish and Czech presidents' signatures are still needed on the treaty, which outlines reforms to streamline decision-making in the 27-country bloc and create a long-term president and a stronger foreign policy chief.
Polish President Lech Kaczynski is expected to sign it soon, but Klaus's intentions are less clear.
Klaus regards the treaty as a step towards a European superstate in which national states will lose sovereignty, and is waiting for the Czech Constitutional Court to rule on a legal challenge filed by a group of senators.
Asked whether he had any assurances from Klaus that he would sign the treaty, Fischer did not respond directly.
But he added: All the messages I have received indicate there is no reason for the president to defer his signature once the Constitutional Court reaches a decision.
Barroso, Reinfeldt and Buzek said the EU was not trying to put pressure on the Czech Republic.
But Swedish EU Affairs Minister Cecilia Malstrom will hold talks in Prague Thursday and Buzek himself will go Friday. Neither has talks scheduled with Klaus.
Reinfeldt said discussions on whom to name for top EU jobs, including the powerful new president, were on hold while Klaus's decision remained uncertain.
The treaty is designed to speed up decision-making in a bloc that represents 495 million people but risks losing influence in the world economy as power shifts towards China and other emerging powers after the global economic crisis. Its implementation could boost prospects for further EU enlargement.
(Additional reporting by Jan Lopatka in Prague; Editing by Angus MacSwan)