Saturday, 21 June 2008

Lisbon Treaty and democratic reform

Even if the EU Treaty of Lisbon is an improvement on the current Treaty of Nice for anyone who cares about a European Union working better, we can ask if ‘getting around’ the Irish rejection is the right remedy.

The referendum outcome may be both deplorable and unwise, but the Irish voters should be treated as adults. They live with their decision, until they are ready to make a new one, without being force-fed.

At this moment I think that it is improbable that the voters in Ireland would endorse any conceivable add-ons in the form of declarations. The attitudes might even harden, resulting in embarrassment for the government, the European Council and the European Union in general.

Failing that, an amicable solution may be found. Ireland, perhaps the Czech Republic and some others, might be persuaded to let the willing states proceed on the basis of substance of the Lisbon Treaty. But can we bet on such an outcome, and could it be done without an amending treaty? In the end, the countries wanting to move ahead could establish a new union, if they have to and if they have the will.

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The parliamentary ratifications show a strong voting record in favour of the Lisbon Treaty. In my view, representative democracy is clearly superior to plebiscites in scrutinising and approving international treaties, including the EU ones.

At the same time, the anti-EU sentiments are gathering force because of the methods used and contemplated to enact EU treaty reform.

Strong as the sentiments are, the motives behind them are misguided. The main idea seems to be to wreck the process and to debilitate the European Union.

A feeble European Union is less able to enhance the security and prosperity of EU citizens. It is an illusion to imagine that global challenges and European level questions could effectively be handled by re-exporting them to the national governments and parliaments.

Therefore, it lies in our collective interest that the substance of the Treaty of Lisbon, with its modest reforms, is allowed to enter into force.

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But the handling of the ratification processes is damaging for the relationship between the national leaders, the European Council and the European Union on the one hand and large swathes of EU citizens on the other hand.

This does not augur well for the future of the European project. Legitimacy is a core problem, and it is not being addressed adequately within the present parameters.

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During the ratification process of the US Constitution, the Bill of Rights was introduced and put in place as soon as the new union commenced work.

Europe needs something of the kind.

Democratic accountability in EU affairs can not be achieved by the present dual character of the European Union, and the national level is not an effective answer.

Therefore, the substance of the Lisbon Treaty as an initial foundation, needs the additional change of the European Union into a democratic polity.

The European “Bill of Rights” would be this qualitative jump, as a solemn undertaking by the member states.

They need to understand that all EU affairs have to emanate from the EU’s citizens, to be exercised by their elected representatives and with a politically responsible government.

This is the crucial reform principle to prepare during the coming months, jointly with the efforts to bring the Lisbon Treaty reforms into force.

The democratic principle is not only a groundbreaking novelty. It goes against the intergovernmentalist credo of a number of member states.

Therefore, putting it into practice would require some member states to embrace democracy as the only viable option for the 21st century, knowing that they would have to leave a number of recalcitrant members behind.

In other words, two major shifts are needed: The full adoption of the principle of EU level representative democracy and the sacrifice of EU unity (one-speed Europe) in favour of a legitimate union.

But what is the alternative? Growing popular disillusionment, hardening resistance, blocked future reform and ultimate failure. The writing is on the wall.

The democratic European Union is worth the sacrifice of two current principles of lesser value.

In short, we need the substance of the Lisbon Treaty, but not without a ground-breaking democratic reform.


Ralf Grahn





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