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

DJ Nozem Blog (Nanne)

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.


  1. "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."

    I just wish that that was true of the Brussels Government. My experience of the Brussels Parliament is that, in practice, it has very little real power, and is more of an assembly than a Parliament, containing no real opposition. It is a sop to democracy. The real power is wielded by The Commission, which is not elected and suffers from a severe democratic deficit. Where are the checks and balances? Where is the effective scrutiny of the budget? Where is the effective scrutiny of the various pressure groups that seem to hold so much sway over The Commission?

    I applaud your upbeat view of the Brussels Government, but my view is based on many years of experiencing it at work in the UK. Several UK Prime Ministers have tried to bring it back into some democratic form and have failed miserably. My view is that it is beyond reform.

    I would love to see it become a representative body of European States, working together on an intergovernmental basis, but the federal nature and covert and overt ambitions of those holding the power make it unreformable, and contain the seeds of its own destruction. I understand the federalist worry about nation states, but world experience suggests that only those bound together by a common bond can work closely together for the common good. There is too much separating the differing views and cultures of European nations to bring them together successfully in a federation, as yet, and I don't see this changing fast. Just my bleak view of where we stand.

  2. Alfred, I respect your bleak view, although I don't share it.

    I think that democratic reform was a slow and frustrating process at the local and the national level, and that introducing democratic rule at the EU level requires both energy and patience.

  3. I hope that you can prove me wrong. That is a genuine hope, but I feel this Brussels Government is beyond reform. Maybe there will be some big shake up that will force it to address the democratic deficit.

  4. Alfred, we seem to share some hopes and fears.

    I don't think that the development of EU level democracy will necessarily be swift or easy, and I rather think that I won't like the substance of every law passed or decision made even if the system would be democratically legitimate.

    Still, I believe that the security and prosperity of EU citizens would, on the whole, be served by a Union which was democratic, effective and solidary.

  5. Actions speak louder than words.

    The EU and its forerunners has ever acted the bullying brute, destroying the original EFTA (to which your country was associated)through unsavoury trade discrimination, that being just the start from a UK point of view.

    The absence of multi-lingual treaty versions seems minor in the face of all the other evidence of the true nature of this non-democratic and clearly corrupt abomination.

    I live in France where my state health cover has been arbitrarily and retroactively withdrawn, yet my elder sister who moved here years before the Treaty of Rome has never encountered problems with the French authorities. Such illegal actions would not be undertaken between equal sovereign nations. It is the EU that encourages such highhandedness and illegality.

    On the day France has passed the dreadful Lisbon Treaty in their Parliament they require that any buyer for Societe Generale must be French, does that accord with EU legislation or respect for that law? It is all a sham!

    Britain is destroyed, no real manafacturing, no proper jobs, most public utilities and food firms sold out to German and French enterprises and a growing economic crisis. Not all the fault of the EU I grant, but the disconnection and self-serving of our inept parliamentarians stems from Brussels.

    Soon it will be the turn of France and Finland and all the other countries, the inefficient and corrupt EU can only now feed upon itself.

    Lack of a coherent treaty is no accident, believe me, how could it possibly be?

  6. Martin, the obstruction of France you mention seems to be directed against the internal market including competition policy, i.e. against agreed and evolving EC (EU) rules.

    Actual practice by "Brussels" in other areas can feel both archaic and intrusive. I imagine that part of the Eurosceptisism in the Nordic countries finds its explanation here, since people - right or wrong - believe that our societies are fairly developed.

    But in spite of less than ideal workings, I think that there are strong strategic reasons for improved common European structures to tackle challenges concerning our security and prosperity.


Due deluge of spam comments no more comments are accepted.

Note: only a member of this blog may post a comment.