Friday 27 June 2008

EU: Unanimity curse – The road ahead

Carlos Closa analyses the crucial unanimity rule concerning the ratification of EU treaties in an article called ‘Tras Irlanda: referendum y unanimidad’ (After Ireland: referendum and unanimity). The article (16 June 2008) is available on the web pages of the Real Instituto Elcano:

The Irish referendum result means the start of a new period of uncertainty with regard to European integration. Even more questionable than the referendum is the requirement of unanimous ratification by all member states of every treaty reform in a union as large and heterogeneous as the existing one.

Closa’s critique is founded on four reasons against unanimity:

1) It violates the equality of the parties.

2) The chances of any success diminish enormously.

3) The democratic principle is perverted.

4) The decision of one saddle the rest with the costs (externalisation).

Closa’s conclusion is that unanimity is an inadequate procedure for treaty reform. He acknowledges the taboo character of the subject, but he suggests an isolated reform of Article 48 of the Treaty on European Union.


Closa’s critique of the unanimity rule is well founded. Since the publication of the article, the Irish referendum has precipitated tendencies to unravel the Treaty of Lisbon, unanimously agreed by all member states’ governments as late as last December.

By now, revisionist voices have been heard in Austria, Cyprus, the Czech Republic and Poland, not to mention Ireland. The United Kingdom seems to have tied its ratification to ultimate approval by Ireland (and thus, all 27 member states). Further dismantling can not be excluded.

Even more than at the time of Closa’s writing, the European Union stands at a crossroads. Institutional and democratic reform is achievable only among some of the member states. A choice has to be made between the quality of integration and the quantity of participants.

A two union solution seems to be the only alternative to gridlock. The advanced, political union would be based on democratic ground rules and effective decision-making. The old union would have to be accommodated somewhere along the lines of the European Economic Area, the European Community or the EU mark Nice.

One-speed Europe is none-speed Europe.

It is time to move ahead to give “old Europe” and “new Europe” a new connotation.

Ralf Grahn

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