Confusion over the future of the Lisbon treaty

Article published on Oct. 17, 2008
Article published on Oct. 17, 2008
The European commission says that 24 of the 27 member states have approved the Lisbon treaty. The ratification process is still taking place in two other states, with Ireland having rejected the Treaty. But is this really the case? Analysis

The European commission categorically states that the Lisbon treaty has been approved by the majority of the 27 EU member states. However, approval and ratification are two different things. Ratification by all member states is a necessary condition for the Lisbon treaty to come into effect. Picture two geographical maps of Europe: the map presented by the EU commission and the one you can find on Wikipedia. It’s clear at a glance which states have ratified the Treaty. It’s also clear that the commission wishes the situation were different.

After Ireland

A few days before the results of the Irish referendum were published in June 2008, the president of the European commission, former Portuguese prime minister José Manuel Barroso, pleaded for a subsequent ratification of the treaty. The leaders of the 27 member states decided that the ratification process would continue in all countries, excluding the option of renegotiation. French president Nicolas Sarkozy told the European parliament that it was now impossible for the Lisbon treaty to come into effect on the scheduled date of 1 January 2009.

The Czech Republic, where the treaty was declared dead in the water, continues to maintain this view. However, this is incorrect, simply because the Irish constitution allows a referendum to be repeated. This means that the ratification process is not completely over in Ireland. Furthermore, there is talk of a new referendum in April 2009.

Brian Cowen, the current Irish prime minister, has said that the negative result of the referendum should not be interpreted as a vote against the EU. However, he is not unsusceptible to pressure from europhiles and Sarkozy, and will present an action plan for ratification at the next European summit on 15 - 16 October 2008. On 11 September, the Irish government presented a survey on the Lisbon treaty illustrating the reasons for the ‘no’ vote, key to which was citizens’ lack of information on the subject.

Issues raised

This raises questions about the prospect of a second referendum. Surveys have merely confirmed what we already knew and the belated publication of the results, eleven weeks (!) after the referendum, clearly shows that attempts are being made to put off the proposed Irish action plan for as long as possible. At the same time, an article published on Times Online on 10 September confirms that sources close to the Irish government envisage the prospect of another referendum during the second half of 2009. The deadlines are far too short, given that there will be significant institutional change within the EU in 2009 in the form of the European elections and changes at the commission anticipated by the treaty of Nice. This has led European leaders to declare themselves in favour of a ‘new Treaty’. The ideal period for a new approval process would be between March and April 2009.

Failure to adopt the Lisbon treaty will have a negative impact on several matters. Initially, a group of member states will still push for it to be applied. But the question of a two-speed Europe, i.e., increased integration between certain member states, will once again be top of the agenda. Failure to adopt the treaty calls into question the future of enlargement, especially as the treaty of Nice currently in effect anticipates a total of 27 member states and this limit was reached during the last enlargement. The EU will ultimately remain impotent on matters of foreign policy. Events in the Caucasus this summer with the Russia-Georgia war highlighted the need to ratify the Lisbon treaty, since it combines EU foreign policies with energy supply policies.

What will happen at the next ratification?

Contradictory information is emerging at present. Ireland is debating whether or not to renew the referendum, while information concerning the state of ratification in other member states is being massaged. Those same member states are giving out contradictory signals and delaying ratification. This has happened because Ireland’s capacity for petitioning has increased, and even Poland and the Czech Republic are trying to exploit the confusion linked to the ratification. Information flows are therefore obstructed, and the time required to make decisions and effect changes is being drawn out indefinitely. The question now is this: is it possible to find a way to reform the treaty that would correct this approach and lead to an improvement in the functioning of the EU?