THE POLITICAL PAGE
June / July 2008
On 12th June, 53% of the Irish population said “No” to the ratification of the Lisbon Treaty. This was a worst case scenario for the European Union From the start, it has not been clear how to get out of this situation. So I have changed the title of the 2nd theme of “Europe”. Part I, with the description of the Treaty, was called: “The New Europe”. Now we call this:
Part II - The Shaken Europe
1. The historical review
On 11th December 2000, f acing the next expansion in the EU in 2004, and after unusual long (and temporarily chaotic) talks, the Heads of States and Governments decided on the Treaty of Nice. This was to guarantee their ability to act after expansion of the Union.
On 15th December 2001, as the Treaty of Nice was seen to be more and more unsatisfactory, they agreed at the Summit in Laeken to establish a convention, under the chairmanship of the previous French President Giscard d'Estaing, to draw up the EU-Constitution. The President started his work on
28th February 2002 . On 10 th July he presented the “Draft of a Treaty for a European Constitution”. The “draft” failed to pass the vote on 13th December 2003 in Brussels, due to Polish and Spanish opposition. They considered that they would incur heavy penalties, compared to the Treaty of Nice, because of the change of the voting weight, which would henceforth depend on each country's population.
On 1st May 2004, 10 new countries became members, bringing the EU to 25 states, without the new processes necessary to allow for the incorporation of the new members. Under huge pressure, the “Constitution Treaty” was passed by the Heads of States and Governments on 18th July.
On 29th October 2004, the Treaty was signed and was send to the 25 countries for ratification.
On 27th May 2005, Germany was the ninth state to ratify the treaty.
Two days later, on 29th May 2005, the French rejected the Treaty in a referendum with a 54.87% majority. A few days later, on 1st June 2005, the Dutch also rejected the Treaty with a 62% majority.
At the Summit on 16th June 2005, the Heads of States and Governments decided to take a one year “break for reflection” because, according to the veto rule, the ratification process was blocked by the double “No”. The constitution was, therefore, of no further use in this form.
Only in January 2007, 1½ years later, and with the start of the German Council Presidency, did things start moving again.
On 25th March 2007, Angela Merkel made new suggestions in her “Berlin Statement" for advancing the process. On 21st June 2007, in Brussels, she asserted herself against the Polish. As a result, the content of the “reform treaty” was accepted by the “double majority” and signed by each country on 13th December 2007 in Lisbon. The countries now had 12 month to ratify the “Lisbon Treaty” so that it could be in place by 1st January 2009 . This would be just in time for the next elections for the European Parliament which were due in June 2009. As it concerned a new treaty, 100% agreement was required, including those who had already ratified “the Constitution”.
1.2. The Ratification Process
This time every country decided to seek ratification through their elected executive body. Only Ireland, because of its constitution, needed to have a referendum.
Up to the historical date of 12th June, the day on which Ireland exercised its veto, 18 states out of 27, i.e. two-thirds of the countries (such as Germany, Poland, Finland and Estonia) had ratified the treaty in their parliaments. In Germany, the Highest Court is still checking the constitutionality of the treaty because of a single complaint, so the president has yet to sign it.
The following countries have already ratified the treaty: Hungary (17.12.2007). Slovenia (29.1.2008); Malta (29.1); Romania (4.2); France (14.2); Bulgaria (21.3); Poland (2.4); Austria (9.4); Slovakia (10.4); Portugal (23.4); Denmark (24.4); Latvia (8.5); Lithuania (8.5); Germany (24.4 Bundestag, 23.5. Federal Council); Luxembourg (29.5.); Finland (11.6); Estonia (11.6) and Belgium (Senate 6.3). Great Britain (19.6), Cyprus (3.7),
The countries which have not ratified the treaty yet are: the Czech Republic, Greece, Italy, the Netherlands, Spain and Sweden.
There is still concern about whether the Euro-sceptical countries such as Great Britain and the Czech Republic will take the Irish “No” as an excuse for not proceeding with their agreement. The ratification process will probably be continued, despite the Irish veto, in order to exert pressure on Ireland with a 26:1 majority. If one or two other countries do not ratify the Treaty, it will become history.
2.1. The Country
Ireland is as large as Lower-Saxony plus Saxony-Anhalt but has only 4 million inhabitants, which is 40% percent of that of both Federal States. Ireland is a very sparsely populated country. For centuries the country was under British rule and became independent as late as 1919. Whoever wants to understand the Irish has to understand the life and attitudes of this people. They are living on an island at the end of Europe and they have fought hard for their independence. They value their liberty very highly.
Thus their constitution of 1937 says, in its preamble: “In the Name of the Most Holy Trinity, from Whom is all authority and to Whom, as our final end, all actions both of men and States must be referred, We, the people of Éire, Humbly acknowledging all our obligations to our Divine Lord, Jesus Christ, Who sustained our father through centuries of trial, Gratefully remembering their heroic and unremitting struggle to regain the rightful independence of our Nation.”
Ireland is the only European country to mention “Jesus Christ” in its Constitution. It is also the country which brought the Gospel to Germany by the Irish-Scottish monks in the 6th and 7 th century. It is also a country which maintained a continuous prayer chain for centuries. Today, religion is still very important in Ireland and 86% of the population are Catholics.
Economically, Ireland has been the historical poorhouse of Europe. Today, except for Luxembourg, Ireland is the richest European country, measured by its GDP per capita. Ireland took a turn for the better, economically, when it become an EU member state in 1973 and started to receive subsidies from the European Community. The country now has the lowest tax rate in Europe for foreign investors, and today attracts many companies from the USA. The unemployment figure reached 4.4% and the real increase in the gross domestic product (GDP) 5.5%. In the year 2005, it had a GDP of $41,140 per inhabitant, compared to Germany's $30,680 per inhabitant.
2.2. The Irish “No” vote
Since 1997, Bertie Ahern has been the head of the government. He is a nationally and internationally respected model Irishman. Then he got embroiled in a financial scandal and resigned in May 2008. For the past month, Brian Cowen has been the new Prime Minister. These turbulences hindered the dissemination of important information to the Irish population.
In strong contrast to the French “No” decision in 2005, the Irish were not well informed, or where only partially informed, by the opponents of the Treaty. The opponents had organising themselves for some month. Under the professional leading of the businessman, Declan Ganley, who formed the “Libertas” resistance organisation, stirred up public opinion against the Treaty.
It was a skilful move not to argue against Europe, but to argue for “ an other” , a “better”, Europe . Thus they positioned the Irish fight as a fight for all Europeans, who were blocked from to express their “No” opinions about the Treaty. The headlines of the Irish Daily Star said: “The fate of the EU is in our hands”. They considered themselves to be the pioneers of freedom for the citizens in Europe, holding ultimate responsibility for Europe's future. And in fact – everything did depend on their decision.
One popular argument said that the government hadn't really explained the Treaty. And the critics were right to say this. And there is an urgent need to explain what is in this complex document which is a treaty couched in a well-phased legal jargon. Even Prime Minister Cowen had to admit that he hadn't read through the whole “Book”. Thus the Irish remained firm in their view: If politicians were unable to explain why the Treaty was good, then it would be wiser to back off from it. In addition to this, there were also disappointments with the government of the country, especially with Bertie Ahern's financial affairs.
Further arguments for the “No” to the Lisbon Treaty were that:
Irish military neutrality was in danger. One man asked whether his son had to enrol in the “European Army“.
Ireland would be forced to increase its taxes;
Ireland would lose voting ‘weight' by the new treaty. This is true: at present Ireland has a voting weight of 2.03% but after a revaluation based on the population figure it will only have a 0.85% voting weight.
Ireland would have to allow abortions.
There were also local arguments: an endangered district hospital might be closed down; and a turf-cutter from Galway feared that the EU would outlaw the cutting of turf in nature reserves etc.
We need to say the following:
The Treaty does not threaten, as the opposition said, Ireland's military neutrality, tax laws or stand against abortion. But this is the problem. The treaty only contains general statements, and its generalness and openness invite fears.
Europe already has a “European Force” the so called “Eurocorp”, in which 7 countries participate at present. The treaty says that further steps will be made to establish a European defence force, but not before long and tough negotiations (Great Britain, for example, is also against an EDF). So we can not forecast the results and timing today. It has been suggested that Europe needs to address the Irish fears and to assure them that they have an Opt-out option. Once convinced, they could be asked to vote again.
The 1.18% right of vote loss is being blown up in importance by its opponents. Everybody can see that the 1.18% vote loss will not count for much in the next election. What is important is that Ireland needs to find partners that share its opinions so they can vote together.
The local arguments show how hard it is to settle huge political issues by referendum, especially with such a lack of information.
3. Consequences for Europe
3.1. As in 2005, politicians are once again in shock and are, once again, apparently helpless. How should they proceed? They will be discussing this at the Summit on 19th-20th June. Many are for the continuation of the ratification process.
Of course, there is a hard and conservative aggressiveness which needs to be addressed. There is also a sadness that one country, which has profited from the Community more than any othershould be the one to abort the Treaty.
The absurdity of this “right of veto” is being stressed. Why should the whole EU with its 490 million citizens depend on the vote of 3 million Irish electors? In fact, only 50% ( i.e. 1.5 million people) actually voted and, of them, only 53%, just 852,415 citizens were against it; This means the destiny of all the other people in Europe depended on the wishes of a few Irish people.
At this point – they say – it becomes obvious that a reform is desperately needed for the future of the expanded EU!
On the other hand, politicians know very well, of course, that the mood against the EU among the Irish population is very similar elsewhere. This is the reason why they accept the referendum as binding. They know that the approx. 800 000 Irish people only said what the rest of them felt. The Irish clearly reflected the referendum in France and Holland. Politicians are aware that the Europe of the EU is a political construction and that the citizens of the individual states are not really united or politically homogenous.
3.2. What will not happen now?
Of course, the EU will not collapse. The common working foundations and the procedural rules are already enshrined in the Treaty in Nice. But this was treaty was so unsatisfactory that the constitution was drafted first and then, after its rejection, the essential and necessary ammendments were included in the Lisbon Treaty. Now all of them are no longer valid. (See Part I, pages 2-4, Political Page, May 2008).
The following things will now NOT happen, for sure:
There will not be a more democratic and transparent Europe:
- There will be no equivalence in the legislative. The people's elected representatives in the European parliament will not have equivalence with the European Council of the Heads of Government.
– The strong involvement of the national parliaments and their possibilities for control will continue.
- The possibility of a petition for a referendum, by 1 million citizens from different states, to call upon the Commission to initiate the development of a legislative initiative, has now gone.
– The option for countries to withdraw from the EU has also gone.
There will not be a more efficient Europe:
- The essential reforms of the “double majority” on voting in the Council of Ministers based on population figures, will not happen. And the veto blocking-option remains.
– The six monthly cycle of the Council Presidencies, with every country establishing its own agenda and priorities, will not change. The plan for an elected Council President for a period of 2 ½ years is shelved.
– The parliament and the Commission can not be “trimmed down”.
Europe will not have a Charter of Fundamental Rights.
Europe will lose its chance to become a credible Global player. The EU will not be able to operate as a legal entity nobody will be in place to represent it abroad. There will be no “High Representative for Home and Security Policy”, a sort of EU Foreign Minister.
3.3. Two Concepts
Given the growing need for EU's internal integration and external representation, the failure of the Lisbon Treaty is a catastrophe. But many politicians, and especially citizens, are well pleased with this failure. Why? Because Europe's growing integration has always triggered national fears.
There are already two parties in the EU: the fast and slow track EU countries. In the past, the gap between the two parties was always bridged over with new concessions and subventions. Now – so they say – the gap has obviously become irreconcilable. There are no longer any ready-made compromises. Now is the time for decisions. These decisions should enable those who accept integration to go forward, while giving time to the others to join in later if they want to (just as with the introduction of the euro). This is the concept of the “two-speed Europe”. Despite the considerable organisational problems, a split would be the most honest solution. One party regards the EU as only an economical community, and nothing more. The other party sees the EU as a political community and also a community with common values.
Thus we would have a “Core-Europe” surrounded by a ring of other states with varying degrees of economical cooperation. Then we would know what we have, and we would no longer need to spend time searching for costly compromises.
Of course, if we want to adopt the two-speed option, we have to find solutions that suit the Core-Europe group as well as the countries of that closest-ring group. We have to see how the Summit on 19th-20th June will turn out (c.f. State of affairs 17.6). Clean cut solutions are not expected. At the moment, everybody is being very careful about what they say. The ratification process seems to be continuing. This is possible because they say that the Irish “No” is not a European problem, because the Irish Prime Minister has already signed the Treaty in Lisbon. It's an Irish problem and a challenge to the Irish government to find a way to ratify the treaty in its own country. Ireland will be offered every help necessary from the outside. At the moment, Ireland is being treated very carefully and sensitively; it will not be excluded under any circumstances. The hope remains that the Irish people will swing to a “Yes” vote once they realise that all their reservations have been met.
We hope that the EU will be re-established on a more realistic basis. We need to see an end to the verbal compromises and legal fussiness. Whoever wants to join should join in; whoever does not want to join should be allowed to stay where they feel comfortable.
Of course, if we want to go down the two-speed road, we have to work out valid options for the Core-Europe group as well as for the countries of the closest-ring group.
Because of the double “No”, in 2005 and now in 2008, the EU is being challenged to make a clear decisions which will produce real changes: What kind of Europe do we want? What vision for 2020 can be built on the realities which exist today?
When I heard about the Irish “No”, I was disappointed and upset. But I felt, like at other surprising sudden turning points of European policy, a “be careful, back off – it is the Lord's doing”.
So I say:
Treaty for a European constitution 2005.
The Fischer Weltalmanach 2008. Zahlen-Daten-Fakten.
Ortwin Schweitzer, Europa-wohin? 2. nd edition 2003
F. A. Z. 21.6.2007; 4.6.2008; 14.6.2008
Rheinischer Merkur Nr. 23,2008
I wish the readers of the Political Page relaxed and blessed holidays.
The next Political Page will appear in August.