Wednesday, 9 July 2008

Clingendael: Lisbon Treaty options

Rob Boudewijn and Janis A. Emmanouilidis ask

How to proceed after the Irish “No”

in Clingendael Commentary 5 (9 July 2008). The two page analysis can be accessed at the web page of the Netherlands Institute of International Relations ‘Clingendael’:

The researchers Boudewijn and Emmanouilidis present four options, of which they dismiss the first three:

1) A core group, leaving Ireland outside a new union.

2) Ireland’s voluntary withdrawal from the European Union.

3) Abandoning the Lisbon Treaty and negotiating a new one.

Their fourth and final option, deemed to be the most attractive and realistic one, is for the member states to continue the ratification procedure. Ireland would arrange a repeat referendum in early 2009.

The writers find it highly likely that Ireland will be the only member state to have rejected the Lisbon Treaty. Then 26 member states, representing 99 per cent of the EU’s population would have every moral right to ask the Irish to reconsider.

Ireland might be granted some concessions in return, for example in the field of taxes, family law and defence.


A few comments on the Clingendael Commentary:

The fourth option with continued ratification looks attractive – until the second Irish referendum.

The repeated plebiscite would have to be won by the ‘yes’ side to make any difference. Otherwise it is just a humiliation more for those who have invested in the treaty reform process.

None of the reasons for the ‘no’ vote was pro-European, so why should the Irish voters suddenly care about the rest of Europe the second time around?

Having discredited their own political leadership, why should they rehabilitate them?

Wouldn’t asking the Irish the same question again prompt new and more bloody-minded resistance?

Would the concessions mentioned by Boudewijn and Emmanouilidis change anything in practice or in the perception of Irish electors?

The Lisbon Treaty already contains the legal guarantees mentioned, which means that Irish particularities on (company) tax, abortion and neutrality are no real issues. A declaration makes them no more real, but neither is it a real concession.

Opening up the Lisbon Treaty would, on the other hand, lead to new ratifications and waste of time. The margins are slim.


The option offered by Boudewijn and Emmanouilidis seems to build on the most human of grounds: Miracles can always happen, and if they do, nobody has to draw real conclusions.

But is the solution good after the second Irish referendum?

Ralf Grahn


  1. As the case for yes seems quite unlikely, this proposal is basically relying on whishful thinking. Additionally, I think that a second referendum on the same issue would be wrong.

    Anyway, it's the dismissal of the first solution that I find too hasty.
    I cannot buy the notion that "Core Europe" means a new division of the continent, even if it's costantly repeated. Why on earth the eastern countries should be sidelined, when most difficulties come from old members?
    The first enlargment is the one that could be undone (with the exception of Denmark), not the fourth (maybe Czech Rep.) or the fifth.

    We already have a multi-tier overlapping structure brought in not only by Eurozone or Schengen Area, but also EEA, candidate countries and the Council of Europe. If a new "Lisbon compliant" Eu-20 or so arises, I will find it both more desirable and more realistic than the present mess.

  2. Igor,

    Yes, I agree with you. The proposition is based on wishful thinking, but as I said: Mircles can happen.

    I am in agreement with your view on a second Irish referendum, too. I see little to support that the second answer to essentially the same question would be different.

    Perhaps politics needs to go through a certain amount of motions and rituals before those with leadership responsibilities are ready to contemplate alternatives openly.

    Establishing a core Europe (new union) would not be as divisive, in my view either, as the Clingendael paper leads us to believe.

    But if we want to be realistic about it, I think there are are a number of problems and obstacles to be reckoned with.

    Intergovernmental enhanced cooperation on the basis of the Nice Treaty would be fairly limited, and it would grow the democratic legitimacy gap.

    Intergovernmental spearheading cooperation outside the EU framework would have the same democratic deficit problem.

    There are very few signs that EU leaders, despite their rhetoric, would actually by prepared to lay the present or a new union on democratic foundations. Let us say that some of them did; how many would they be?

    If not divisive, a new union, if using the framework of the present EU, would be messy or need a clear-cut separation. Who would participate in which decisions (European Council, Council, Commission, European Parliament)? What about the budget?

    The European Union and its leaders face a grave problem in that the old mixture of intergovernmentalism and supranationationalism draws increased hostility from large segments of the population and at the same time leads to growing disillusionment among pro-European intellectuals.

    Without new thinking 'outside the box', the European Union seems destined to become a 'Versailles', more and more detached from the Europeans.

    This is hardly a recipe for success in the 21st century, but if European integration fails, we will all be the poorer for it.

    This is why I believe that an effective and democratic union is necessary, even if it would have to start out among just a few integrationist member states.

  3. Ralf Grahn,

    I completely subscribe to your point of view.
    If integovernmentalism was such an effective tool, now Europe would be harmoniously
    ruled through the Council of Europe by its member states. Additionally, I fail to see
    how intergovernmentalism and democracy could be reconciled, as you pointed out.

    Maybe this union should be ended and replaced by a slightly smaller and deeper one, more democratic and more supranational: the only recipe likely to be successful.
    Implementing Ceps'Plan B and denouncing the present Treaties could be the only way out, if a new Delors delivering this can be found.

  4. Igor,

    New solutions seem to interest only people who are free to speak their mind.

    Didn't president Sarkozy just reiterate that the choice is between Lisbon and Nice?

    Who can be enthusiastic about such a union?

  5. Seachtu. Denmark was in a near identical position to Ireland post-Maastricht i.e. after the first Danish no vote. It is time to research what happened as history is about to repeat itself.

  6. Anonymous,

    The Irish government has given itself time to think by commissioning studies into the causes of the No vote.

    Studies and time may unearth some new aspects, but from what I have seen this far, there is very little to build a convincing 'better deal' on.

    The Danish government was able to pinpoint four real opt-outs, which changed the Maastricht Treaty for Denmark. (Incidentally, the present government would like to get rid of these opt-outs, but given the fall-out from the Irish rejection, these referendums will probably have to wait.)

    A week or two ago, DIIS published a study on the Danish opt-outs, although I have not read it, so I am not able to comment in depth.

  7. Seachtu. You have put your finger on it. Some real debate is needed on what Ireland wants in the way of a relationship with a Europe as it will be under the Lisbon Treaty, including policies from which she may wish to opt out.

    Having slavishly followed the UK in relation to justice and home affairs, the obvious remaining policy is in the area of defence which was a big issue during the campaign.

    From recent remarks by the Taoiseach Brian Cowen (in Paris, against the backgroumd of a military bypass on the 14 July!)there is seemingly no recognition yet within the Government (and the yes side generally) that over 70% of the electorate - according to a Commission opinion poll - found the arguments of the no side more persuasive in this and other areas.

    The opinion poll to be commissioned by the Government itself may have a more sobering impact, together with the realisation that, while Austria, Sweden and Finland have a well-thought policies in this area, Ireland has none worthy of the name. This makes the electorate justifiably uneasy.

    Other issues, as in the case of Denmark, can also be covered and there are already indications that the issue of a Commissioner per Member State can be resolved by a form of undertaking by all Member States in relation to the implementation of Article 17.5 of the TEU (not because of the desire to do Ireland any favours but because of the evident political impracticality of leaving any of the larger Member States without "their" commissioner).

    The current non-policy of the Irish Government is simply to stall in the hope, like Micawber, that something better will turn up. It will not and our esteemed Taoiseach will find this out when he represents himself for his driving test in October. He is showing no signs of any capacity to keep the Irish economy on the road and is now suffering from a serious credibility gap.

    It would be political suicide to re-present the Lisbon Treaty to the Irish people without some substantive changes in Ireland's situation vis-a-vis a Europe which the electorate have the wit, if not their politicians, to recognise has changed dramatically. Immigration, predominantly from the new Member States, for example, was the unmentioned topic during the campaign but it is now emerging that it also played a major role. That countries on the Continent retained (and continue to retain)restrictions on free movement did not go unnoticed.

    When it comes to dining a la carte at the European menu, Ireland is not alone. States do not deal in sentiment but in interests.

    Any answer to the question posed? Could the EP elections ever conceivably have been held under the new rules? Or would it have been better to delay their implementations, as in the case of the Commission, to 2014? If so, is it not better to recognise reality and, irrespective of the "Irish problem", for the Heads of State and Government to say so.

  8. Seachtu. [This is my pseudonym]. I have seen your answer to the question posed on the other thread. If the EP made a proposal, on what basis did it do so? It can hardly have done so on the basis of a treaty that has not yet come into force.

    The interest of this question is considerable. Europe can manage perfecly well without the Lisbon Treaty for another year or two. The people might just have time to catch up with their leaders in the meantime.

    The only imminent enlargement is that of Croatia and the conditionality now introduced by Sarkozy and Merkel is entirely opportunistic and tailored to put pressure on Ireland. It has no legal foundation other than in relation to the problem created by the protocol to the Nice Treaty requiring that the number of Commissioners be less than that of the Member States. If all Member States are in agreement to appoint a full complement of Commissioners, how can this be an insurmountable obstacle?

  9. Seachtu,

    It is equally legally possible for Ireland to ratify the Lisbon Treaty as it is to admit new members to the European Union.

    You seem to be fairly sure of retaining the size of the Commission beyond 2014 if the Lisbon Treaty is approved. But under Nice the next Commission would be smaller.

    Perhaps we will have to wait for more information on the European elections 2009.

  10. As Ireland cannot be forced to ratify the Lisbon Treaty, France cannot be forced to accept further enlargment. Period.
    Such is the beauty of liberum veto.


Due deluge of spam comments no more comments are accepted.

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