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Sun. June 20, 2021
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Is the EU Reform Treaty in Danger of Going Nowhere Like Its Predecessor?
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Is the EU Reform Treaty in Danger of Going Nowhere Like Its Predecessor? The Reform Treaty (known also as the Lisbon Treaty) is meant to streamline the decision-making process for an enlarged EU made up of 27 member states. The Treaty is the replacement for the abandoned Constitution (which stalled after Dutch and French citizens voted “No” in their national referenda in 2005). It envisages some structural changes and changes to the roles of particular posts – for instance, the duration of the Presidency of the European Council of EU leaders – the Treaty proposes to change this from its current rotation every six months to a longer term of two and half years. Additional changes that the Treaty would make include a stronger foreign policy chief role within the EU structure, a mutual defence pact amongst member states, and changes to the voting system used within the EU institutions. This is meant to provide less gridlock in the legislation process, but also provide a means for national parliaments to have greater say, while demonstrating more accountability and legitimacy for EU-level decisions within EU Member States. The question upmost in the minds of many within EU bureaucratic circles today is what impact the outcome of the Irish referendum will have, although only a few days now since the votes were counted. Early reports indicated that the ‘No’ campaign was leading with nearly 54%, whilst the ‘Yes’ campaign was showing only 43%. Although there were early suggestions that voter apathy was the reason for the defeat of the Treaty, turnout was reported to be at 53%, contradicting these earlier explanations for the results delivered. In fact, the electoral results revealed that opposition to the Treaty was concentrated in predominately ‘working class areas where many people are suspicious of Brussels” and of the political elite within Ireland. How could this have happened in such a strongly pro-European country? Many will be asking how this could have happened and why, especially in a country that is considered to be one the most pro-European states in the Union. Some reports suggest that the Treaty’s opponents had played on the current fears and suspicions of citizens – suggesting that the Lisbon Treaty would undermine Ireland’s historic neutrality with the stronger foreign policy role, as well as suggestions that smaller countries like Ireland would have reduced influence under the new terms. These sentiments play on the worries of some citizens about the slowdown of the economy, and unease with the recent influx of immigrants into Ireland. Ireland, which makes up less than one percent of the EU’s current 490 million population, looks to be the stumbling block for the Lisbon Treaty). In addition, Ireland is the only country to have taken the vote to the people on the Treaty, due to its own constitutional requirements (the Irish Constitution demands that any legislation impacting and changing the national constitution, needs to be sent to referendum). Some will be asking whether this referendum necessity for Ireland is more a hindrance rather than a good illustration of democracy at work, as there are always questions surrounding how effectively any campaign to educate people about all the relevant issues within a Treaty such as the Lisbon Treaty, can have. One needs only look back to the problems that arose with the Irish rejection of the Nice Treaty, nearly wrecking the Union’s enlargement plans, to have been able to at least predict the potential strength of the opposition within Ireland, despite pre-voting polls suggesting that with good voter turnout, the pact should pass. With the Nice Treaty – it too failed in a referendum the first time around; although the government then decided to hold a second referendum a year later - after more effort by the government and supporters of the treaty, to discuss and ‘educate’ the population about what the Nice Treaty would do and not do, within Ireland. Will the Irish government take a similar stance again? The Irish government has said that it is not considering a re-run this time around like it did with Nice, but doesn’t look to have completely ruled out the possibility all-together. And if they do decided to hold another referendum at a later date again, how does this then reflect on the supposedly democratic nature of referendums period, if the government should decide to re-hold voting on the same treaty at a later stage? What now for the Lisbon Treaty? With 18 of the 27 member states having already ratified the Treaty via national parliaments, this referendum in Ireland could throw a spanner into the works and cause a major headache for the European Commission, as well as all Member States. In a statement by European Commission President Barroso the day following the voting in Ireland – he stated that while the Commission would obviously have wanted a different outcome, he still believes that “Ireland remains committed to building a strong Europe and playing a full and active part in the EU.” He stresses the need for other member states to continue with the ratification process and hope that perhaps Ireland will be able to come up with a solution to ratify the pact at a later date. The current sentiment and path from this point is to get all 27 members together, as the Treaty had been signed by all 27 member states, responsibility for addressing the current situation should also be dealt with by all members together collectively. What is apparent however, is that the Irish ‘No’ vote to the Treaty of Lisbon, did not help to solve many of the current difficulties of the EU’s decision-making processes and that it will take continued work to balance the dual tasks of moving towards reform of the current system and institutional structures within the EU, while addressing the obvious concerns of citizens (illustrated by the referendum yesterday). Over the coming weeks, observers will be watching to see if there is any knock-on effect, as there was with the Constitution before it. In the meantime, further delays to necessary reforms, has an impact on the decision-making in a system that has already stretched to capacity – in order to accommodate the growing number of members, especially with the 2004 enlargement that added an additional ten countries at once. In any case, the next few weeks will prove interesting, watching to see how the European Commission handles the latest developments, but also looking to see how national governments who have yet to ratify the Treaty, are viewing this latest development and whether it will have any negative impact on how their national legislatures vote to ratify the Treaty themselves. The Fallout of the Failed Ratification by Referendum? Some are speculating the fallout from this failed referendum in Ireland is only beginning to show – the Euro fell after initial reports suggested that the ‘No’ campaign had won in Ireland, sliding to its lowest level against the dollar in over a month. Any additional short or long-term economic impacts as a result of this situation, is likely to appear in the coming weeks, if at all. In other areas, the failed ratification in Ireland does not look set to deter German, French or British efforts to ratify the Treaty within their Parliaments as planned. They may find renewed efforts by the oppositions within their countries however, as a result of the success of the opposition in Ireland. But what does this all mean for reform of the European Union’s cumbersome institutions? To not reform the EU institutions is not an option, as they are in genuine need of reform, as outlined within the Treaty. In addition, having spent the last seven years negotiating a pact that would be able to garner support across all its Member States, it is unlikely that the Commission will want to re-start this process yet again, especially having already had to abandon its proposed Constitution. Nor will they even think about the possibility at this stage of renegotiating the Treaty provisions. In the short-term, it will likely mean a stall to the whole reform process, but in the end - what the situation the referendum result has created, is that it leaves Ireland in an awkward position, and in particular, it’s Prime Minister, Brian Cowen – wondering how to get the treaty ratified without: 1) holding another referendum; but 2) while also following its own constitutional requirements. Time will tell at the moment what happens overall to the Treaty and what happens next to Ireland’s position with regard to it.

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