I had a piece in Crikey on Thursday about the Lisbon treaty, which is all set to come into force, but I wouldn’t want to let the occasion pass without a comment on the actual concession that secured its final ratification.

Czech president Vaclav Klaus only agreed to sign the treaty after he was promised that his country would be allowed to opt out of the treaty’s Charter of Fundamental Rights.

What’s the particular fundamental right Klaus is worried about? He’s concerned that EU courts might entertain compensation claims from ethnic Germans who were expelled from Czechoslovakia (as it then was) after the second world war.

The expulsion of the Sudeten Germans was a piece of rough historical justice; given that their leadership had enthusiastically collaborated with Hitler, one can certainly see the Czechs’ point of view. Still, it’s sad that this is one issue on which Klaus seems to have substantial support: his predecessor Vaclav Havel was one of the very few prominent Czechs to suggest that some sort of compensation might be in order.

It’s particularly sad that this should be the case in the Czech Republic, which was once a showcase of liberal democracy, and has had two presidents – Havel and T.G. Masaryk – who won international renown for their moral leadership.

Might it perhaps put one in mind of another country that was once seen as a moral leader in the system of international law, but now wants to be able to tear up international agreements when it suits? As yet, at least, there are no opt-out provisions in the refugee convention.

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