June 19, 2008
For the second time in the last three years, the European Union faces the challenge of finding a solution to an institutional crisis. In 2005, the European Constitution was rejected by the French and the Dutch, and last Thursday the Irish rejected the Treaty of Lisbon, a revised version of the Constitution.
Several options for how the EU should now proceed have been put forward by politicians and academics these last days. It has been suggested that a group of Member States could move forwarded in the form of reinforced cooperation or that the Treaty should only apply to 26 countries. However, legally the Treaty of Lisbon will not enter into force before it has been ratified by all Member States and as long as Ireland (or any other Member State that has not yet ratified the Treaty) does not do so, it will not be possible to only apply it to the Member States that have ratified it.
The reinforced cooperation alternative is problematic with regard to the institutional reforms. Although it would be feasible that a number of countries would reinforce their cooperation, for instance, in the area of defense, it is evidently not thinkable that institutional reforms, such as the establishment of the post of an EU Minister of Foreign Affairs and the appointment of a president for the European Council for two and a half years, would only apply to a limited number of the Member States. What is more, it would be more urgent to implement at least some of the institutional reforms, such as limiting the number of Commissioners and MEPs and increasing the powers of the European Parliament, in order to make the EU work better and to reduce the democratic deficit. Consequently, the EU needs a solution that would resolve the institutional challenges which it is facing.
Another option proposed would be to offer Ireland opt-outs from certain areas and then submit the Treaty for a second referendum in Ireland whereas the other Member States would move on with the ratification process. The problem is that there were a number of different reasons for why the Irish rejected the Treaty. Consequently, it will be difficult to offer a “package of opt-outs” that would ensure the approval of the revised text in a second referendum. The EU should therefore prepare itself for a possible second rejection of the Treaty and already start thinking of a “Plan C” for the worst-case scenario.
Whatever method the European politicians will eventually opt for, it would be essential to try to reduce the current gap between the political “elite” and the people by stimulating a public debate about the future of Europe and by actually trying to explain what the Treaty reform is really about and how it would affect the daily lives of the EU citizens.
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