thoughts on the
On 29 January 2008, Gordon Brown
entertained German Chancellor, Angela Merkel, French President, Nicolas Sarkozy
and Italian Prime Minister, Romano Prodi, in
Was this the way that the EU was going to be run in future, I wondered, with the big EU states agreeing positions in advance, as the five veto-wielding members of the Security Council do these days, having given up any pretence that the views of the ten temporary members of the Council matter? If so, there would have to be a seat at the table in future for the permanent President of the Council of Ministers, a post which will be created by the Lisbon Treaty.
A permanent president
proposition in the Treaty has been presented as a kind of tidying up exercise, made
necessary by the fact that the EU has 27 members. It is inefficient to have the presidency
rotating around 27 states every six months, it is said. In fact, the rotation is no more or less
efficient with 27 states than it was with 6.
However, the drawback for big states is that they get to hold the
presidency every thirteen and half years instead of every three years – and so
Now there is to be a permanent President, initially for two and a half years and renewable for a further two and a half years. Significantly, individual states will not have a veto over who becomes President, who will be elected by qualified majority voting.
Gordon Brown could have Tony Blair imposed upon him by other states. Blair seems to be angling for the job. He went to the UMP conference in January at the invitation of Nicolas Sarkozy and described himself as a “socialist”, which is a sure sign that something is afoot.
rotating presidency was a symbol that the EU, in its current and earlier forms,
was an association of states with each state taking a turn at running it, while
the permanent European Commission was the unifying mechanism acting for the
This shift will be more pronounced if the roles of President of the Council of Ministers and the President of the Commission are merged. This is permitted under the Lisbon Treaty, which merely forbids the President of the Council from holding “a national office”, that is, a governmental position in one of the EU states. Earlier drafts of the Constitution forbad the President of the Council from being “a member of another European institution” as well, but that bar was later removed and the President of the Commission can now be elected President of the Council.
A foreign minister
are other ways in which the Lisbon Treaty will enhance the role of the
Like the permanent President, the EU foreign minister will be appointed by qualified majority voting, and individual states won’t have a veto. The foreign minister will be a member of the Commission and will chair meetings of EU foreign ministers in the EU General Affairs and External Relations Council. Furthermore, when the EU has a defined policy on a subject on the agenda of the Security Council, EU states who are members of the Security Council will be obliged to request that the EU foreign minister be allowed to attend and speak for the EU. (From this, it follows logically that there should be a single EU veto in the Security Council, instead of the UK and France having one each, but it can be guaranteed that the neither the UK nor France will agree to give up its veto).
the first time, there is to be an EU diplomatic service – its official title is
the European External Action Service – bringing together the External Relations
Commissioner’s staff working in
The British Government keeps saying that each state will retain a veto on foreign affairs, but that is not the whole truth. Qualified majority voting will apply in a number of areas in foreign affairs. For example, when the EU General Affairs and External Relations Council asks the EU foreign minister for a proposal on a particular subject, once s/he has made a proposal the Council will accept or reject the proposal by qualified majority voting. Furthermore, all decisions with regard to the diplomatic service will be taken by qualified majority voting.
balance between the
Why has the
in the negotiations on the Constitution (which began in 2002), the
guess is that this retreat is a product of the fact that in recent years the EU
has generally been persuaded to support US/UK foreign policy, for example, on
Lisbon Treaty is currently before the House of Commons. Given its history of opposition to ceding
sovereignty to the EU, one might have thought that the Conservative Party would
be manning the barricades to resist the measures mentioned above. But it is not. Yes, it is opposing the Treaty, but not with the
fervour one would expect given the significance of what is being proposed. It appears that the penny has also dropped
with the Conservatives that it is advantageous to
(The Conservative Party’s main attack on the Government is that the Labour Party promised, in its 2005 election manifesto, to hold a referendum on the Constitution and it is now refusing to hold a referendum on the functionally equivalent Treaty. Since the Liberal Democrats, who also promised a referendum in their election manifesto, have also reneged on their promise, there won’t be a referendum and the Treaty will be approved by Parliament, perhaps after a hiccup or two in the House of Lords.)
* * * * *
haven’t said anything about the possible social and economic impact of the
Lisbon Treaty, because I don’t know enough about those aspects of the Treaty to
judge. I cannot say whether there was
real substance to the proposition advanced by the French left that the
Constitution would have set the EU unequivocally on a neo-liberal economic path,
which was a major reason why the French referendum on the Constitution was lost. Certainly,
26 February 2008
Irish Political Review