Friday, 8 February 2008

On publishing the Lisbon Treaty

I expect fair play from European governments, at home and when they work jointly through the Council of the European Union. I accept that our political system is based on representative democracy entailing accountability of the elected, and the right of the voters to change government.

Actually, I am more worried when I see political parties, potential holders of office, at election times or otherwise, giving in to populist pressures, be they substantial or procedural: cutting taxes needed for ongoing programmes, or new benefits without corresponding financing, or rash promises of referendums, to name a few.

With representative democracy comes responsibility towards the electorate, what I call fair play: openness and transparency giving the tools for democratic debate, more or less enlightened, but perhaps a bit more sane if the facts and reasons are out in the open.

These are reasons why I have such problems stomaching the conduct of the intergovernmental conference (IGC 2007), which gave us the much needed reform treaty, the Treaty of Lisbon. Modest as it was, the end result meant breaking the deadlock and giving the European project a push forward. But the IGC 2007, and the intergovernmental Council in general, are sores in our democratic system.

Since the European Union, at its present stage of development, is like a house of cards, based on international treaties between states, not a real Constitution founded on the citizens of the EU, unanimity between 27 member state governments plus ratification by all 27 members are hurdles high enough, in my opinion.

Nothing wrong in parliamentary ratification, then, but I understand the frustration of people who have waited for a promised referendum on the Lisbon Treaty in order to wreck the process, and the squirming of politicians who abdicated their responsibility when they promised a dose of ‘direct democracy’ and now have seen where purely domestic referendum debates lead.

***

If the men and women who signed the Treaty of Lisbon are hard-headed enough to pursue the route of parliamentary ratification (wherever possible), they should at least be proud enough to communicate their achievement openly and fully to all the citizens of the European Union.

By producing gibberish, and by refusing to publish consolidated versions of the Treaty of Lisbon, they sent the subliminal message that something was rotten in the contents of what they had agreed on, that it could not withstand the light of day.

Their decision and refusal not only sent the wrong message to the citizens, it was ultimately futile:

Parliamentary ratification would proceed anyway, regardless of what the public could read and debate. Even the minimum published was enough for dedicated think-tanks and individual to reconstruct the treaties as they would stand after entry into force.

But the ill-judged stonewalling of our leaders has had clear negative consequences:

There are, as far as I know, consolidated versions of the Lisbon Treaty out in the open only in a minority of the official languages of the European Union. The Council, if it deigned to discuss openly, might contend that offering no consolidated version entails equal treatment of EU citizens, since all are equally disserved. But what about openness, transparency, accountability, citizenship and decisions taken as closely as possible to the citizens?


The lack of readable texts is filled by myth and rumour. Since debate is inevitable, wouldn’t it be better if it was more closely based on facts, or at least that the ones who read the most preposterous arguments can check the real contents and judge the alleged catastrophic effects themselves?

Consolidating the treaties or deciphering their contents has lead to unnecessary duplication of work. The treaties are the fundamental documents of the European Union. Not only are they the basis for democratic debate, they are tools in daily use all over Europe.

Students who want to know the EU they are going to work in, teachers preparing lectures, researchers who could confront the questions directly, journalists checking their facts, public and private organisations operating in an EU environment and politicians at every level, all of them need accessible and readable versions of the single most important piece of legislation to emanate from the European Union since 2004.

My modest blog sees the demand for consolidated versions of the Lisbon Treaty daily, by the number of visitors who arrive from every corner of as a result of web searches for a readable text and end up here as a result of my numerous postings on the subject. Many of those who lack a readable treaty in their own language, are forced to look for a version in another idiom.

***

My message to the European Council is: Relent. Publish.

***

Not much less sad are the acquiescence of the other EU institutions and the negligible publishing efforts of most of the member states.

Is the general interest subservient to the machinations of governments and is the representation of the citizens of the Union subordinate to the underhand dealings of our national leaders?

The Constitutional Committee of the European Parliament was content to “look forward to” consolidated versions of the Lisbon Treaty they well know aren’t forthcoming presently.

To my knowledge Jens-Peter Bonde is the only member of the European Parliament who actually has done something to publish the contents of the Lisbon Treaty in a readable format.

Even the European parties seem to be part of this conspiracy of silence, at least the four I contacted by e-mail well before Christmas asking why there are no consolidated versions of the Lisbon Treaty. Do they actively want to discourage any illusion that they have the citizens’ interests at heart?

***

As long as the Council refuses to publish readable versions of the Treaty of Lisbon, I rejoice every time I find that some think-tank or individual has assumed the burden of producing and publishing a consolidated version.

If the United Kingdom and the Netherlands were most vocally opposed to publishing consolidated versions of the Lisbon Treaty (as reported by the DJ Nozem blog), it is almost hilarious to know that of at least four consolidations in English, one has been produced by Her Majesty’s government. As far as I know it is the only version published directly by a government.

And as Nanne (DJ Nozem) reported on his blog, René Barents has produced a consolidated Dutch language version of the Treaty of Lisbon, which fills a gap for about 20 million Dutch speaking EU citizens.

***

If an English and a Dutch consolidated version of the Treaty of Lisbon were deemed especially subversive by the governments in question, I find it extremely satisfying that parliamentary pressure (presumably) and private initiative, respectively, has perforated the premeditated policies of ignorance.

Now there is even less reason to uphold the counter-productive ban on publishing the rest of the language versions.


Ralf Grahn


P.S. The Dutch consolidated Treaty of Lisbon has not been mentioned on this blog before. Here are the details:

René Barents: Geconsolideerde teksten van het Verdrag betreffende de Europese Unie en het Verdrag betreffende de werking van de Europese Unie zoals gewijzigd door het Verdrag van Lissabon
http://www.nrc.nl/redactie/Europa/verdraglissabon_barents.doc

DJ Nozem Blog (Nanne)
http://djnozem.blogspot.com

Dear Reader,

Please tell me if you know about a new consolidated version of the Lisbon Treaty, or about official documents, books, research papers and other secondary literature, both popular and scholarly. The web offers us possibilities to share information.
News on the ratification processes is welcome, too.
Help me to help others. Thank you.