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The EU's biggest skeptic under pressure to sign treaty

In the wake of the Irish "yes" vote on the EU's Lisbon Treaty, and with Poland expected to follow suit at some point, all eyes are now on one man: Czech President Vaclav Klaus.

Czech President Vaclav Klaus stands among reporters and demonstrators at an anti-EU rally in Prague

Czech President Klaus recently showed up at an anti-EU rally in Prague

Klaus believes the EU is headed down a path towards more regulation, less freedom and less accountability. The outspoken free market economist is loathe to sign the EU's 2007 Lisbon Treaty, a reform package designed to modernize EU institutions and decision-making.

Yet the Czech president has given the first hint that he might be losing his will to continue fighting the Lisbon Treaty. The Czech Republic and Poland are the only countries who have not yet ratified the treaty, which must be approved by all EU members.

Polish president Lech Kaczynski has promised to sign it, but has said he's in no hurry to do so. Czech parliament has already approved the treaty, although a legal challenge has been filed by a group of Euro-skeptic senators.

Klaus has said he will wait for the country's high court to decide if the treaty is constitutional before signing. British conservatives, who are expected to win the UK's parliamentary election next spring, hope Klaus will postpone things long enough that they can join his efforts to block the treaty's progress.

Skepticism on parade

The hopes of Czech Euro-skeptics were on display Saturday, when about 300 demonstrators marched through Prague's old city in support of Klaus.

The demonstrators waved banners and shouted slogans such as "EU – Fourth Reich!" and "Berlin – Moscow - Brussels!" One man carried a sign showing the EU's ring of yellow stars encircling a hammer and sickle.

"We are here to tell him that we will support him if he remains firm and will wait for the elections in Great Britain, in case the Tories will win," said Michal Semin, one of the march's organizers.

After several minutes on the square in front of Prague Castle, Klaus finally came out to greet them, triggering a roar of applause from the crowd.

He told them the Irish referendum was not the way Europe should do business – that if the vote had been no, then there would have been a third, or a fourth, or a fifth referendum until Ireland got it right.

But then Klaus said something remarkable – After the Irish referendum, he told the crowd, there will never be another referendum in Europe. Was he resigned now to signing the treaty? Did he no longer believe he can hold out until a British general election next year, predicted to usher in a Conservative government which has promised to hold a referendum on Lisbon if it remains ungratified anywhere in Europe?

"Too late"

He was asked afterwards whether he had a message for the people of Britain.

"I am afraid that the people of Britain should have been doing something, really, much earlier, and not just now," said Klaus. "So that's my clear message to all of them -- too late."

A protester holds a banner depicting a yellow hammer and sickle symbol surrounded by EU stars during a demonstration in Prague

Euro-skeptics in Prague and London are depending on Klaus to reject Lisbon

That quote has been interpreted as Klaus resigning himself to Lisbon as an inevitability. But for the moment he -- and the rest of Europe -- can do nothing until the Czech Constitutional Court rules on the latest legal challenge to the treaty, filed by hardline senators. When it does, he will be under enormous political and diplomatic pressure to sign the treaty.

Meanwhile, British conservatives like home affairs spokesman Andrew Rosindell are asking him to hold on to his Euro-skeptic ideals, for their sake.

"I sincerely hope that the president of the Czech Republic, Vaclav Klaus, will do his bit for Britain -- and for Europe indeed -- and hold on as long as he can so that we can have our referendum," Rosindell told BBC radio.

Editor: Trinity Hartman

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