Now a rapid ratification process

Political actors
 
German reactions to the agreement on the reform treaty were mainly positive.[1] With regard to the question of ratification Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier stated that he wanted Germany to go ahead as model country with a rapid ratification process.[2] Chancellor Angela Merkel argued optimistically that there was now “much more confidence than some time ago”[3] and that the reform treaty will be implemented by the European Elections in 2009. Having promised to guarantee a rapid ratification of the Lisbon Treaty in Germany[4], at the occasion of the official adoption of the reform treaty by the Federal Cabinet on 14 November 2007 the German Government declared its goal of having finished the ratification process in Germany by the summer recess 2008.[5] The concrete window for ratification in both chambers of the German parliament, the Bundestag and Bundesrat, was later set by Merkel for mid-May 2008.[6] In her speech to the Bundestag Merkel showed herself to be optimistic that the ratification process will also be successful in the other EU member states.[7] In accordance with the slogan of the German EU Council Presidency she declared that “Europe can only succeed together”.[8] On 19 December the German Government adopted the Law on the Ratification of the Treaty of Lisbon.[9] At the official press conference Merkel’s spokesman Thomas Steg declared that now “the internal state ratification procedure was introduced“.[10] In order to have a buffer against potential legal complaints he reiterated May 2008 as the concrete date for the termination of the German parliamentary ratification process: “One can never be sure that there will be no complaint of unconstitutionality”.[11] It is here worth noting that in the German case there has already been a precedent for this in 2005 in the context of the Constitutional Treaty’s ratification process.[12] Having the last word in signing the Lisbon Treaty’s text Federal President Horst Köhler will probably find himself once again in an awkward situation[13]: If CSU deputy Peter Gauweiler and members of the Left Party have filed a complaint of unconstitutionality to the Federal Constitutional Court (Bundesverfas-sungsgericht, BVerfG), Köhler will then have to decide whether to go ahead and sign off the treaty anyway or wait for the Constitutional Court to make its case.[14] In the German government it is hoped that Köhler will choose the first path, also by reason of not embarrassing Germany in the EU, since it has been the major power behind the reform debate.[15] On the other hand, Köhler risks damaging his own image in view of a potential re-election as Federal President in 2009.[16]
 
With the exception of the Left Party, there is a large consensus in favour of the Lisbon Treaty and its fast ratification among German political parties. However parties differ on the ratification’s procedure shape and focus.
 
In a joint motion of parliament[17] the ruling parties of the Grand Coalition, the Christian Democrats (CDU/CSU) and the Social Democrats (SPD) emphasised communication with other national parliaments in order to find a suitable schedule for ratification. In that respect they also demand that the government better coordinate the German ratification process with the other EU member states and better inform the wider public about the reform treaty’s details.
 
In comparison, however, it is clear that the two biggest parties stress different issues. Whereas the Christian Democrats focus on their concern that the ratification process, and especially referenda, could become a “heavy obstacle”[18] to the implementation of the Lisbon Treaty, the Social Democrats emphasis coordination with other national parliaments and active communication with the public.[19] In order to guarantee a common ratification process in the EU member states within a short time period[20] the German and French Parliaments have initiated a coordinated procedure.[21] In that context the issue is raised that a member state’s decision on the Lisbon Treaty should be connected to the general question of its EU membership: Thus, yes or no to the reform treaty would mean yes or no to its membership in the EU in general.[22]
 
The Liberals (FDP) were in general more reserved than CDU, SPD and Greens regarding the outcome of the Lisbon Treaty[23] but also in favour of its rapid ratification. They stress the fact that the Lisbon Treaty is for the citizens.[24] They demand that Chancellor Merkel must present it to the Bundestag and to the wider public. In their view, if the Lisbon Treaty is rapidly ratified, the EU could concentrate on its real function: policy-making for the benefit of European citizens.[25]
 
For the Greens (Bündnis 90/Die Grünen) the most important topic is also the dialogue with the citizens which should be held in a transparent way.[26]
 
Among the German democratic parties only the Left Party (Die Linke) rejects the Lisbon Treaty by reasons of its, in their view, undemocratic and anti-welfare character.[27] Because of that lack of welfare statism foreseen by the German Basic Law (Grundgesetz, GG), the Left Party is considering filing a complaint of unconstitutionality to the Federal Constitutional Court when the Bundestag has officially adopted its decision.[28] Another important point for the Left Party also is the dialogue with the citizens. That is why several national and European party members started a campaign to collect 1 million signatures in order to install an EU-wide referendum in all member states on the same day.[29] In Germany that would mean to amend the Basic Law.[30] With that campaign the Left Party wants to express its dissatisfaction with the Lisbon Treaty only, not with the EU in general.[31]
 
Academic community
 
Whereas German academics did not hesitate to analyse the Treaty of Lisbon due to its institutional implications[32] and in comparison to both the Nice and Constitutional Treaty[33] they do not seem to have drawn too much attention to the question of its ratification process. Regarding its success only some authors expressed their optimism or scepticism. Arguing in October 2007 that the ratification process remains the main uncertain factor for the reform treaty’s implementation[34], the same author judged in December 2007 the chances for ratification to be much better than in 2005.[35] For others, the process of ratification is, however, not the most important point. In that perspective, even if it succeeds “Europe has to face the biggest challenges since its foundation”[36]:
1.       Maintaining its economic strength.
2.       Taking seriously its role as regional power in Eastern Europe and the Western Balkans.
3.       Learning to be a serious actor in international security questions such as in the Atomic quarrel with Iran.
4.       Taking its responsibility for the developing countries.
 
Public opinion, media and Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs)
 
Among other actors the variety of opinions is as diverse as shown above. One commentator of the media considers the ratification process a real obstacle for the Lisbon Treaty’s implementation, since every EU member state has to ratify within 12 months. In that respect he also thinks that even Germany cannot be sure because there is a danger of a complaint of unconstitutionality already announced by Karl Schachtschneider, an expert in constitutional law, who sees a “lack of democracy” within the reform treaty.[37]
 
The Federation of German Industries (BDI) and the Confederation of German Employers’ Associations (BDA) both welcomed the Lisbon Treaty and pushed for a rapid ratification.[38] The latter stressed that Europe should come back to policy-making instead of institutional reform debates.[39] In contrast, NGOs such as ATTAC and Europa-Union, as well as the German Trade Union IG Metall, all emphasised the dialogue with citizens. However, whereas both ATTAC and the IG Metall criticise the Lisbon Treaty because of its ratification procedure, e.g. the fact that there will be no referenda except in Ireland[40], Europa-Union is in favour of an immediate ratification based on the question of EU membership and a real communication strategy that conveys the motifs and successes of European integration to citizens.[41] In contrast, ATTAC neglects the Lisbon Treaty and demands an EU-wide referendum in order to lessen the gap between elite and people.[42] According to IG-Metall, the fact that there will be no referenda except in Ireland speaks against an opening of the EU to its citizens.[43]
 
A public opinion poll of March 2007[44] revealed that 77 per cent of German respondents believed people should be given a say in a referendum or citizen consultation procedure, above the EU average of 75 per cent. In contrast, only 23 per cent of German respondents consider the ratification by national parliaments as sufficient.
 
Reactions to the establishment of a ‘Committee of Wise Men’: Useful for the EU’s strategic future but lacking democratic legitimacy
 
Political actors
 
Among German actors Sarkozy’s proposal to install a Committee of Wise Men caused different echoes. Although the German government did not seem to be satisfied with Sarkozy’s idea from the beginning[45], Merkel, at the Franco-German Blaesheim meeting on 10 September 2007, supported the general approach.[46] Merkel and Sarkozy left the question of its composition open at the time, Merkel saying only that “it should not be active politicians from the Commission, Council and Parliament but instead personalities with a certain distance and wisdom”.[47] Concerning the connection of the Committee of Wise Men with the question of Turkey’s EU membership, as indicated by Sarkozy, Merkel said that the group will speak about the EU’s future, thus also about enlargement issues, however “not exclusively orientated on Turkey”.[48]
 
In December, after the official establishment of the so-called “reflection group” at the European Council Meeting[49], Merkel concretised the group’s function, mandate, members and expected results:[50]
 
Regarding its mandate Merkel made clear that the reflection group will focus on the EU’s role in 2020-2030 and beyond. Institutional questions were therefore excluded from its agenda. In contrast the group should deal with the big strategic questions of European development, such as the strengthening of the European economic and social model, the EU legal system, sustainable development, global stability, migration, energy, climate, security issues, crime and terrorism. The European citizens’ expectations and needs, as well as questions of deepening and widening, should also be dealt with. Regarding its expected results Merkel emphasised two main points: First, that the essential question for the group to answer is how Europe can better define its role, model, standards and interests. Second, that its main function is not to make political decisions but instead to prepare a sound basis for them by pointing to substantial strategic development in the near future which Europe must handle.
 
Apart from the official European Council’s decision to install former Spanish Prime Minister Felipe Gonzalez as President and Jorma Ollila, board chairman of Nokia and Royal Dutch Shell, and Vaira Vike-Freiberga, former Latvian President, as Vice-Presidents of the reflection group, which should comprise a total of nine persons, Merkel stressed that when the group complete, then “Politics, Economy and certainly also social partners” will define its form.
 
In contrast to Chancellor Merkel several German parliamentarians expressed their uneasiness about the installation of a Committee of Wise Men. Jo Leinen, Member of the European Parliament, declared Sarkozy’s idea a ”fallback into methods of the 1960s and 1970s”.[51] In his view the EU’s future must not be discussed by elite circles but by elected representatives of the citizens in dialogue with the wider public. Thus, he proposed to install a new Convention after the implementation of the Lisbon Treaty in 2009. After the official decision on the installation of the reflection group he then stressed that the EP and the national parliaments will critically accompany and if necessary also revise the group’s work.[52] In the Bundestag it were mainly the opposition parties FDP and the Greens who argued against the Committee of Wise Men. In a joint motion[53] the parties stressed that the Committee of Wise Men would weaken the European and national parliaments because of its lack of transparency and democratic legitimacy. Furthermore, they argue that this group could harm the Lisbon Treaty’s ratification process. They also demand a public debate in a Convention with wide participation of parliamentarians and civil society. According to them, only under these circumstances can a European public sphere evolve. Regarding the composition of the Committee of Wise Men the FDP demanded at least some parliamentary participation.[54]
 
Both Grand-Coalition parties, SPD and CDU/CSU, seemed to be less concerned about the Committee of Wise Men. In a joint motion the parliamentarians demanded continuous updates to the Bundestag by the German government on the group’s work. Within the SPD, some deputies openly communicated their unease of the installation of a Committee of Wise Men.[55] Arguing that debates must take place in the parliaments it is furthermore stressed, in line with Merkel[56], the necessity to proceed step-by-step: first, giving the citizens time to get to know the new reforms and its implementation and second, to begin new debates on the EU’s strategic future.[57]
 
Academic community
 
In German academic debate the proposal for a Committee of Wise Men seemed to be of minor interest. In addition, it is differently evaluated: Whereas one publication put emphasis on the fact that such a group could contribute to the euroscepticism of many British citizens regarding further integration steps[58], others argue that this group of experts could be reasonable and useful for drawing a long-term strategy for the EU[59]. Referring to its important precursors, such as the Spaak, Delors or Kok group, the authors argue that they “had a lasting influence on European integration”.[60] The same authors, however, stress that usefulness of a Committee of Wise Men depended on certain preconditions:
1.       The group is protected from political instrumentalization.
2.       The group has a clear mandate demonstrating that the debate’s focus lies with the broad, strategic lines of European integration.
3.       The debate is public.
4.       The group members are not active politicians.
5.       The current reality of an EU-27 is taken into account.
6.       There is political will from the member states to take into account the group’s final recommendations.
 
In any case, in their view, Sarkozy’s idea “has touched a raw nerve in the European Union”[61] in times when Plan D and the discussion of big European questions has failed.
 
Public opinion, media and Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs)
 
According to a recent poll from Bertelsmann Foundation, German, French and British citizens are mainly in favour of a Committee of Wise Men. Most notably in Germany and France two thirds of respondents expressed their positive attitudes to Sarkozy’s proposal.[62]
 
Among other actors the BDA also reacted quite positively to the establishment of a reflection group. Their main concern is its “balanced composition”[63], the guarantee of a certain political distance of its members and public access to its work.


[1] Cf. Institut für Europäische Politik (ed.): EU 25/27 Watch, No. 5, September 2007, Berlin, pp. 37-41.

[2] Cf. speech of Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier at the occasion of the parliamentary debate on the Intergovernmental Conference on 11 October 2007 in the German Bundestag, 12 December 2007.

[3] Merkel, Angela at the press conference on the Informal European Summit, 19 October 2007. That optimism is however rejected by Klaus Hänsch (SPD) who states that the situation for ratification were not better than in 2005. Cf. Hänsch, Klaus: Ende gut – alles gut? Anmerkungen zum Reformvertrag, in: integration 4/07, pp. 499-502.

[4] Cf. Press conference by Chancellor Merkel on the Informal European Summit, 19 October 2007.

[5] Cf. German Government: Bundesregierung stimmt EU-Reformvertrag zu, 14 November 2007.

[6] Cf. Government declaration of Chancellor Angela Merkel on the signing of the Lisbon Treaty and the European Council Meeting, 12 December 2007. Since the Lisbon Treaty amends the existing European treaties, i.e. an international treaty, in Germany the ratification process will take the form of an act of parliament, which must be approved by a two-thirds majority in both chambers of the German parliament, the Bundestag and the Bundesrat. Cf. Article 23 and 79 of the German Basic Law.

[7] Cf. Government declaration of Chancellor Angela Merkel on the signing of the Lisbon Treaty and the European Council Meeting, 12 December 2007.

[8] Ibid.

[9] Cf. German Government: Ratifizierung des “Vertrages von Lissabon” eingeleitet, 19 December 2007.

[10] Translated by the author. Governmental press conference of 19 December 2007.

[11] Ibid.

[12] At the time, Federal President Horst Köhler had postponed his decision to sign the ratification document because he wanted to wait for the Federal Constitutional Court’s (Bundesverfassungsgericht, BVerfG) decision on the complaint of unconstitutionality filed by CSU deputy Peter Gauweiler.

[13] Cf. Deutscher Widerstand gegen EU-Vertrag wächst, in: Welt Online, 19 February 2008.

[14] In formal terms, it is possible to sign off the Lisbon Treaty even if the Constitutional Court is still examining it. However, such a move is politically difficult, especially if the Constitutional Court were to eventually decide against the legality of the Lisbon Treaty.

[15] Cf. Deutscher Widerstand gegen EU-Vertrag wächst, in: Welt Online, 19 February 2008.

[16] Ibid.

[17] Entschließungsantrag der Fraktionen der CDU/CSU und SPD zu der Abgabe einer Regierungserklärung durch die Bundeskanzlerin. Unterzeichnung des Vertrages von Lissabon am 13. Dezember und zum Europäischen Rat am 14. Dezember 2007, 11 December 2007.

[18] Stübgen, Michael: EU-Ratsgipfel: Weg für eine handlungsfähige EU geebnet, 19 October 2007.

[19] Cf. Schwall-Düren, Angelika in the parliamentary debate of 12 December 2007, in: Deutscher Bundestag, Stenografischer Bericht, 132. Sitzung, pp. 13803-13804.

[20] Cf. Roth, Michael: EU-Vertrag gemeinsam ratifizieren, 23 July 2007. Cf. also Schwall-Düren, Angelika in the parliamentary debate of 12 December 2007, in: Deutscher Bundestag, Stenografischer Bericht, 132. Sitzung, pp. 13803-13804.

[21] Ibid. French parliamentarians and senators, however, have already adopted the Treaty of Lisbon on 7 February 2008.

[22] Cf. Schäfer, Axel: Ein wichtiger Erfolg, aber für Euphorie ist es zu früh, 19 October 2007; Hänsch, Klaus: Ende gut – alles gut? Anmerkungen zum Reformvertrag, in: integration 4/07, pp. 499-502.

[23] Cf. Hoyer, Werner, Löning, Markus: EU-Reformvertrag – ein Erfolg mit bitterem Beigeschmack, 19 October 2007.

[24] Cf. Löning, Markus: Reformvertrag muss sich für die Bürger auszahlen, 13 December 2007.

[25] Cf. Hoyer, Werner, Löning, Markus: EU-Reformvertrag – ein Erfolg mit bitterem Beigeschmack, 19 October 2007.

[26] Cf. Steenblock, Rainder in the parliamentary debate of 20 September 2007.

[27] Cf. Knoche, Monika in the parliamentary debate of  12 December 2007, in: Deutscher Bundestag, Stenografischer Bericht, 132. Sitzung, pp. 13804-13805; Dehm, Dieter: Lissabon ist keine Alternative zu Nizza, 13 December 2007.

[28] Cf. Dehm, Dieter: Lissabon ist keine Alternative zu Nizza, 13 December 2007. Until now it is unclear if also Peter Gauweiler (CSU) will again initiate a complaint of unconstitutionality to the Federal Constitutional Court. Cf. his most recent article from 27 December 2007 in Münchner Merkur, available at: (last access: 25.1.2008).

[29] Cf. Bisky, Lothar: Linke sagt JA zur Europäischen Union, aber NEIN zum Reformvertrag, 13 December 2007; Kaufmann, Sylvia-Yvonne: Direkte Demokratie ist unteilbar – das gilt auch für die Partei die LINKE, 13 December 2007.

[30] Cf. Dehm, Dieter in the parliamentary debate of  12 December 2007, in: Deutscher Bundestag, Stenografischer Bericht, 132. Sitzung, pp. 13814-13815.

[31] Cf. Bisky, Lothar: Linke sagt JA zur Europäischen Union, aber NEIN zum Reformvertrag, 13 December 2007.

[32] Cf. e.g. Wolfgang Wessels and Andreas Hofmann: Der Vertrag von Lissabon – eine tragfähige und abschließende Antwort auf konstitutionelle Grundfragen, in: integration 1/08, pp. 3-20; Kietz, Daniela, Maurer, Andreas: Bilanz und Zukunft der Präsidentschaft im System des Rates der Europäischen Union, in: integration 1/08, pp. 21-36; Kurpas, Sebastian et al., Joint Study CEPS, EGMONT and EPC: The Treaty of Lisbon: Implementing the Institutional Innovations, November 2007; Peter-Christian Müller-Graff: Primärrechtliche Entwicklungsschritte der Gemeinschaftsintegration zu einem transnationalen Gemeinwesen, in: integration 4/07, pp. 407-421.

[33] Cf. e.g. Centrum für Europäische Politik: Gegenüberstellung: Verträge von Nizza und Lissabon, Stand Februar 2008, available at: (last access: 25.1.2008); Centrum für Europäische Politik: Gegenüberstellung: Institutionelle Änderungen, Stand Oktober 2007, available at: (last access: 25.1.2008).

[34] Cf. Seeger, Sarah, Yüzen, Layla: Und nun Blick nach vorn! Bilanz des Lissabon-Gipfels am 18./19. Oktober 2007, CAP Aktuell, Nr. 13, October 2007.

[35] Cf. Seeger, Sarah: Das ist ein guter Tag für Europa, Interview in Münchner Merkur, 14 December 2007, available at: (last access: 25.1.2008).

[36] Translated by the author. Techau, Jan: Der neue Traum von Europa, in: Politisches Feuilleton, Deutschlandradio Kultur, 23 November 2007, available at: (last access: 25.1.2008).

[37] Cf. Berbalk, Ottmar: XXL-Europa mit gewaltigem Haken, in: Focus online, 19 October 2007.

[38] Cf. Bundesverband der Deutschen Industrie: Vertrag von Lissabon: Mehrwert für Europas Handlungsfähigkeit, in: BDI-Info-Service, Ausgabe 23, 19 December 2007; Bundesvereinigung der Deutschen Arbeitgeberverbände (BDA) and Bundesverband der Deutschen Industrie (BDI): Deutsche Wirtschaft: Vertrag von Lissabon umsetzen!, press information, 15 December 2007.

[39] Cf. Bundesvereinigung der Deutschen Arbeitgeberverbände (BDA) and Bundesverband der Deutschen Industrie (BDI): Deutsche Wirtschaft: Vertrag von Lissabon umsetzen!, press information, 15 December 2007.

[40] Cf. Attac: Vertrag von Lissabon macht Bürgerinnen und Bürger mundtot. Erklärung europäischer Attac-Organisationen zum EU-Reformvertrag, 13 December 2007; IG-Metall: Übersicht „Vertrag von Lissabon“ und erste Bewertung, 22 October 2007.

[41] Cf. Europa-Union: Den Vertrag von Lissabon ratifizieren – die europäische Einigung voranbringen, 2 December 2007.

[42] Cf. Attac: Vertrag von Lissabon macht Bürgerinnen und Bürger mundtot. Erklärung europäischer Attac-Organisationen zum EU-Reformvertrag, 13 December 2007.

[43] Cf. IG-Metall: Übersicht „Vertrag von Lissabon“ und erste Bewertung, 22 October 2007.

[44] Cf. Tns opinion: Public opinion and the future of Europe, March 2007.

[45] According to a high-level German diplomat.

[46] Cf. Merkel und Sarkozy für einen „Rat der Weisen“, FAZ.NET, 10.09.2007 (last access: 25.1.2008).

[47] Translation of the author. Pressekonferenz von Bundeskanzlerin Angela Merkel und Präsident Nicolas Sarkozy zum Blaesheim-Treffen, available at: (last access: 25.1.2008).

[48] Ibid.

[49] Cf. Council of the European Union: Brussels European Council, 14 December 2007, Presidency Conclusions.

[50] Cf. Merkel, Angela in a press conference in Brussels, 14 December 2007.

[51] Leinen, Jo: Neuer Konvent statt „Rat der Weisen“, 11 September 2007.

[52] Leinen, Jo: Parlament wird „Rat der Weisen“ kontrollieren, 16 December 2007.

[53] Deutscher Bundestag: „Gegen die Einsetzung eines ‚Rates der Weisen’ zur Zukunft der EU“, Antrag der Fraktion der FDP und der Fraktion Bündnis 90/Die Grünen, Bundestagsdrucksache 16/7178, 14 November 2007. Cf. Also Löning, Markus in the parliamentary debate of  12 December 2007, in: Deutscher Bundestag, Stenografischer Bericht, 132. Sitzung, pp. 13811-13812; Steenblock, Rainder: Keinen “Rat der Weisen” einsetzen,  10 December; Steenblock, Rainder in the parliamentary debate of  12 December 2007, in: Deutscher Bundestag, Stenografischer Bericht, 132. Sitzung, pp. 13815-13816.

[54] Löning, Markus: Dank der portugiesischen Ratspräsidentschaft ist „Rat der Weisen“ vom Tisch, 7 December 2007.

[55] Cf. e.g. Roth, Michael: Rat der EU-Weisen: Kein weiser Beschluss, 10 September 2007.

[56] Translation of the Author. Ibid.

[57] Cf. Roth, Michael in the parliamentary debate of  12 December 2007, in: Deutscher Bundestag, Stenografischer Bericht, 132. Sitzung, pp. 13809-13811; Roth, Michael: Vertrag von Lissabon: Jetzt zügige Ratifizierung im Bundestag, 13 December 2007; cf. also Schwall-Düren in the parliamentary debate of 12 December 2007, in: Deutscher Bundestag, Stenografischer Bericht, 132. Sitzung, pp. 13803-13804.

[58] Cf. Seeger, Sarah, Yüzen, Layla: Und nun Blick nach vorn! Bilanz des Lissabon-Gipfels am 18./19. Oktober 2007, CAP Aktuell, Nr. 13, October 2007.

[59] Cf. Seeger, Sarah: Das ist ein guter Tag für Europa, Interview in Münchner Merkur, 14 December 2007, available at: (last access: 25.1.2008); Chardon, Matthias, Hierlemann, Dominik, Seeger, Sarah: A Chance for Wise Men, in: Bertelsmann-Stiftung, Center for Applied Policy Research: spotlight europe #2007/07, October 2007.

[60] Chardon, Matthias, Hierlemann, Dominik, Seeger, Sarah: A Chance for Wise Men, in: Bertelsmann-Stiftung, Center for Applied Policy Research: spotlight europe #2007/07, October 2007.

[61] Ibid., p. 1.

[62] Cf. Bürger plädieren für „Rat der Weisen“, in: Handelsblatt, 16 October 2007.

[63] Bundesvereinigung der Deutschen Arbeitgeberverbände: Ergebnisse des Dezember-Gipfeltreffens unter portugiesischer Präsidentschaft, 17 December 2007.