Stanley's blog

Here we go again. There are no new lessons to be learned. We already knew that the referendum is not an appropriate mechanism for approving a complex treaty. We already knew that the European Union has not successfully been ‘sold’ to its citizens. We already knew that a veto is unacceptable in a union of 27.

The only sensible referendum question is: ‘Do you wish to stay within the EU with the new treaty, or leave the Union?’

What now? It is too soon to express any firm opinion. There appear to be three choices:

  • Forget the treaty and carry out such reforms as do not require a new treaty.
  • Agree a declaration to satisfy Irish concerns and hold a second referendum.
  • Find a way of proceeding without Ireland.

France and Germany have already made clear that they regard the new treaty as a necessity. We have to wait for next week’s summit to see which course is likely to be adopted.

Sadly, this is a psychological setback and affects the EU’s standing abroad. It also weakens the Union, so badly needed as the main challenges facing Member States cannot be resolved at national level.

It is about time that national leaders told their citizens the truth about the EU and why it is needed. To the leaders this requires the unpalatable admission that more national economic and social policy is determined in Brussels than in national capitals.

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  1. I think this must make people think that the EU membership is not obligatory. As a federation of states it is completely unacceptable that the representatives of the states agree upon something and later they can withdraw their support. I also do not think that to overrule an agreement on the common affairs of 490 million people to be overturned by 0,9 million. The European interest will always loose against the US or Russia if the EU cannot be governed.

    I think the EU should change the rules. One possibility is that those who do not sign up to the latest treaty loose membership and re-apply later if they wish.

  2. Respect flows in both directions. The rest of Europe respects the verdict of the Irish electorate to ‘opt out’ of treaty reform, and Ireland respect the will of other member states to advance and to reform the EU.

    Ireland and perhaps the Czech Republic and possibly some other country may opt for an alternative arrangement, but they have to formulate their own desired status. This has to be negotiated separately.

    The vast majority of the EU member states have legitimate expectations of their own, and 18 of them have already cleared the essential ratification hurdle, approving the substance of the Treaty of Lisbon.

    Most of the rest will probably carry on with the ratification process of the Lisbon Treaty. This is what I expect from the foreign ministers and the heads of state or government next week.

    The majority can agree on an amending treaty based on the substance of the Lisbon Treaty. In essence they need only change the Article on entry into force to be based on the ratifying states (not every state of the present EU). In addition, a few technical adjustments are needed (signatories, languages, territory etc.).

    If the political will is there, the new European Union could be established by 1 January 2009 and the process need not even disrupt the goals of the French presidency too much.

  3. You asked ‘Do you wish to stay within the EU with the new treaty, or leave the Union?’”

    I had the great pleasure of traveling from Dublin to Galway. I did not meet one citizen of Ireland that wanted to be a part of the EU. It could have well been a fluke, but the Irish I had the benefit of meeting did not care for England.

    I think Ralf summed it up best. It is about respect and Ireland, for whatever reason, gets very little.

  4. @antal – i totally agree; too many opt-outs and concessions for one member or the other may dillute de whole meaning of the European construction.

  5. Hi Stanley,

    I think your option 1 is the only option: ditch the treaty, but introduce several changes that could be done without treaty reform, e.g. national parliament protocol, external action service. Even a single chair of the European Council could be introduced without treaty reform – e.g. like the chair of the Eurogroup. The only things that could not be done are either largely irrelevant (e.g. space policy!), or not particulalry desirable anyway (e.g. the new QMV voting rule in the Council, less than one Commissioner per member state)

    A second referendum in Ireland is highly undesirable for several reason: (1) it is an insult to the people; (2) it’s not clear what the Irish voters’ want, so no specific “Irish fix” can be added; and (3) it would probably be No again, as the turnout was surprisingly high and the margin of victory quite large (i.e. unlike with the first Nice vote).

    And, the third option – of going ahead without Ireland – is simply unworkable.

    Forget the damn treaty. There’s very little in it anyway, so who really cares! It’s much more important to listen to the people and start to change the way the EU works in other ways to make it more democratic, more visible, and more responsive to the people – e.g. to have a contest for the next Commission President.

  6. Antal & Ralf: I agree but unanimity is required to change the rules

    Simon: Not sure you can appoint permanent president of the European Council as he would not necessarily be present member and last for whole term. QMV changes are desirable but not vital. One Commissioner per MS might not happen anyway. Don’t agree with the “damn” sentiments at end
    See my post of 17 June: lack of legitimacy not democracy.

  7. Hi Stanley,

    I’d fully support what Simon Hix said. Let’s give up trying to repackage this thing again.

    First we had the Convention: it produced a Constitution that clearly wasn’t a Constitution and, on the face of it, was less of a step forward than any of the previous treaties. Remember that we were quite disappointed at the result: la montagne avait accouché d’une souris.

    Then we had the IGC. They fiddled with the Convention’s text, they all had their red lines and some got what they wanted. And we were more disappointed.

    Then they said no, and no again. And we had the “obscure treaty” of Lisbon. Designed to be incomprehensible. And we were even more disappointed.

    Shall we get to the next step, water down once what’s left from the Convention’s work? My take is clear: no, it’s not worth it.

    Yet it’s urgent to get the people on board. EP elections are in just one year. Let’s make sure people understand how important their vote is.

    As for the institutions, let’s focus on the EU’s sick man: the Council, an increasingly pathetic myriad of people paid to defend what’s left of the sovereignty of their countries: commas in texts nobody’s interested in.

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