June 17, 2008
The Irish referendum on the Lisbon Treaty is a tragedy, yes, but a
tragedy in the sense of ancient Greek theater, in which both sides are
right and both wrong.
The Irish “no” camp claims it wants a better deal, more democratic,
with a directly elected foreign minister and president of the European
Council (EU summits). They’re right, the people of Europe do deserve
more democracy. But the “no” camp was wrong in thinking that they were
going to get it anytime soon by rejecting the Lisbon Treaty.
As a journalist who covered the Convention on the Future of
Europe and the Intergovernmental Conference, I can tell you there
were a lot of people who wanted a more democratic Europe then, too.
Among others, George Papandreou, the former Greek foreign minister,
once called for a president of the European Council directly elected
by the people of Europe (as opposed to being elected by his or her
peers). A large number of delegates to the Convention supported him.
But the assembled representatives of the anciens regimes resisted and
Unfortunately, this Europe that we have today is more of a Europe of
nation states than an ever-closer union of Europe’s citizens. Until
wiser, more forward-looking leaders of EU member states realise that
they can accomplish more, collectively, as members of a Union presided
by a directly elected leader with immeasurably greater political
legitimacy than any one leader in one country can ever hope to command
individually, we will be saddled with the necessity to bow to the
anciens regimes, with all the consequences that this implies.
The Lisbon Treaty yes camp is right in saying that the Treaty would
have improved things. It would have chipped away at EU member-states’
national vetoes, replaced the EU’s ridiculous, 6-month rotating
“presidency” with a more stable and effective — and outwardly more
serious — president elected by his or her peers for up to 5 years. It
would have helped the EU achieve greater coherence in its external
relations by creating the post of European Foreign Minister and an EU
diplomatic corps. It would have introduced a greater degree of
majority voting in the Council of Ministers, making national vetoes
more difficult. And it would have simplified — yes, simplified! —
some of the EU’s more Byzantine structures, making it more accessible
to a skeptical public. And it would have improved the ability of
national parliaments to influence EU legislation earlier in the
political process, reducing the risk of wildly unpopular legislation
cooked up in Brussels landing in national capitals as a fait accompli.
That said, the Lisbon Treaty’s supporters were wrong in trying to push
through a cynical, ‘lite’ reform of the previous Constitutional Treaty
rejected by French and Dutch voters in 2005. In my book, Ireland’s
rejection of the Lisbon Treaty is not as momentous as the rejection of
the Constitutional Treaty by French and Dutch voters, because those
two countries were founding members of the European Union and, unlike
Ireland, participate in more of its core projects, including European
defense initiatives and the Schengen passport-free zone.
No, the real problem isn’t Ireland’s rejection of the Lisbon Treaty.
It’s that EU leaders failed to learn from the rejection of the earlier
treaty by French and Dutch voters, who, among other grievances, made
clear that they wanted the EU to become more democratic and more
accountable. Both the Constitutional Treaty and the Lisbon Treaty
offered significant improvements over the miserable Nice Treaty
foisted upon an unsuspecting public by dark of night. But they were
not good enough, and should be improved upon again – significantly —
before EU voters are asked for their approval again.
The situation is not entirely without hope. There is in fact a clear
precedent for a way forward. The U.S. Constitution initially faced
rejection by states including New York, Virginia, North Carolina and
Rhode Island, and was only ratified by all 13 colonies after three
years of extensive and tortuous public debate involving most of the
colonies’ elected leaders, including Thomas Jefferson and James
Madison and the addition of 10 amendments that came to be known as the
Bill of Rights. Europe deserves the same kind of responsiveness and
public debate-not stealth ratification by national parliaments and
It’s high time European leaders realised that the key to a stronger,
more effective Europe on the world stage lies in a more democratic and
more accountable European Union, not the permanent defense of nation
states born in a very different age.
Your EUvangelistAuthor : euvangelist