Future of the EU after the Irish ‘No’

Netherlands Institute of International Relations ‘Clingendael’

Most attention with regard to the European Council meeting of December 2008 was given to the ‘historical agreement’ reached on the climate and energy package, and to the efforts agreed upon to revive the European economy. With regard to the fate of the Lisbon Treaty, the concession granted to Ireland to keep the right for each member state to nominate one Commissioner, received most attention.[1] According to the Dutch government, a considerable concession is made to the Irish. In its official report of the European Council, it mentions the initial preference of the Netherlands for a smaller number of Commissioners.[2] The chances for survival of the Lisbon Treaty are generally estimated to have increased, but it is not taken for granted by the press that the Irish population will approve the treaty in the second referendum.[3] In newspapers, considerable attention is given to the opponents of the Lisbon Treaty, most notably Declan Ganley. His efforts to build from an office in a prime location in Brussels a cross-European political party, Libertas, are followed closely.[4] Newspaper articles speculate on how the activities of Ganley are financed and who could become his allies in various EU member states. Although no Dutch political parties are known to have an interest in aligning themselves with Libertas, a trend towards more Euroscepticism can be witnessed among the Dutch political parties, most notably in the populist-conservative parties (“Freedom Party” of Geert Wilders and “Proud of the Netherlands” of Rita Verdonk). The Freedom Party has announced it will participate in the elections. Currently it is doing very well in the polls. The same is the case for an outspoken pro-European party, the social-liberal “D66”, which is doing remarkably after a period of decline.
With regard to the elections to the European Parliament, there has been some attention to the elections of the leading candidates of the political parties. At the time of writing the nominees of the liberals (VVD), the social-liberals (D66), the social-democrats (PvdA), and the green party (GroenLinks) have been decided upon by a vote among the party members. The leading candidate of the Christian-Democrats (CDA), the Socialist Party (SP) and the protestant religious parties (CU/ SGP), have been decided upon as well, either by the party or by silent approval of the members. It is not yet known who will lead the Freedom Party in the elections.
Some newspaper articles refer to the people that are named to be candidates for the most important political positions in the EU after the elections, such as the position of the High Representative and European Council President (in the circumstance that the Lisbon Treaty enters into force). Names mentioned include Tony Blair, Anders Rasmussen and Carl Bild. Perhaps most importantly, the Dutch Prime Minister Balkenende, has been mentioned as a potential candidate for the position of Commission President.[5] Although newspapers indicate that the chances for a second term for current President Barroso are still relatively high, they refer to the relative seniority and solid reputation of Balkenende within the European Council. Balkenende himself has declared support for a second term by Barroso and denies to be interested in the position.[6] Other Commission nominees that have been mentioned include the former Minister for Agriculture Veerman, the Minister of Social Affairs (and formerly Justice) Donner, and Minister for Europe, Timmermans.[7] Soon to retire NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer has been mentioned as possible nominee for the position of High Representative for the CFSP. It is considered unlikely that the current Dutch Commissioner Neelie Kroes will continue, since the political party she is a member of, is currently not participating in the coalition government.

[1] Bert Lanting and Marc Pepperkorn: EU-lidstaten behouden eigen commissaris, De Volkskrant, 12 December 2008.

[2] Kamerbrief inzake het verslag van de bijeenkomst van de Europese Raad, d.d. 11-12 december 2008 te Brussel, Ministerie van Buitenlandse Zaken, 17 December 2008.

[3] Frans Dijkstra: Concessies aan Ieren maken weinig indruk op nee-campagne, Trouw, 12 December 2008; NRC Handelsblad: Ier stemt opnieuw over EU-verdrag, 12 December 2008.

[4] Bert Lanting: De Ierse vijand is in Brussel neergestreken, De Volkskrant, 13 December 2008; Martin Visser: Ierse miljonair schudt Europa op, Het Financieele Dagblad, 12 December 2008.

[5] Telegraaf: Naam Balkenende zingt nog rond in Brussel, January 2009.

[6] Telegraaf: Vervolg Barroso belangrijk voor EU, January 2009.

[7] Trouw: Balkenende genoemd voor topfunctie EU, 21 January 2009.