Friday, 2 October 2009

Some brief thoughts on Lisbon

1. The Lisbon Treaty itself is not a problem. It's largely a tidying-up exercise, streamlining the way the EU works and getting rid of a few anomalies. Far from being a Brussels power grab, it gives citizens of EU countries a greater say, especially by increasing the role of the directly elected European Parliament.

2. The way in which the Treaty has been ratified is a major problem. If the Irish voters do indeed say yes to Lisbon today, the Treaty will have been brought into law in the most underhand fashion. Nothing shows more contempt for democracy than asking a country to keep holding referendums until it gets the "right" result.

There's a gulf of mistrust between EU citizens and EU leaders; even a relatively straightforward Treaty such as Lisbon immediately raises people's suspicions. And that's the Catch-22 for Europe - if almost every change to the EU's structure is seen by citizens as undemocratic skulduggery, it makes it impossible for the EU's leaders to reform the system and make it more transparent.

The bungled handling of both the Constitution and Lisbon certainly hasn't helped matters!

3. Is the Lisbon Treaty suitable referendum material anyway? It's all very well talking about democracy, but most people haven't read the Treaty. We aren't exactly going to have a mature national debate on the finer points of EC law (or EU law, as it will be renamed after Lisbon comes into force and abolishes the confusing "Three Pillars" system).

The Lib Dem position (last I checked) was that Treaties such as Lisbon are not suitable referendum topics - they should be negotiated and ratified directly by the government. Our membership of the EU, on the other hand, should be put to a public vote, so we can choose to keep or reject the whole package.

This seems sensible, but the cynic in me thinks it's a purely tactical policy. There's a serious risk of a no-vote if we had our own referendum on Lisbon, whereas a referendum on EU membership is vanishingly unlikely. The Lib Dem leadership obviously wouldn't like a no-vote on either issue.

Quite how this all squares with point 2 (above) is anybody's guess.

4. This can't go on. If Ireland ratifies Lisbon, and it goes into force, the EU will have scraped through this latest crisis - but for how long? The mistrust certainly won't go away, and we will simply be saving the problems and the resentment up for a future generation to deal with. The current ostrich tactics help nobody.

The EU urgently needs to reestablish its relationship with its own citizens - on a basis of trust and respect - or else it may as well not exist at all.


Frank H Little said...

It is not quite law yet; surely the Poles and Czechs have still to ratify?

Jonny Wright said...

That is true; I am jumping ahead slightly as the Treaty still has some hurdles to get over before coming into force, and it may still never happen.

The Irish vote was seen by most commentators as the biggest hurdle, though, and the Treaty has taken a big step towards being fully ratified.