Proceed with ratification, continue enlargement

The Estonian government regards the outcome of the Irish referendum on the Lisbon Treaty as regrettable. The Irish ‘No’ is seen as prolonging the period of confusion and uncertainty, and having potentially negative implications for the European Union’s competitiveness, further enlargement as well as the EU’s credibility in the international arena. The Estonian government has been a strong proponent of both the Constitutional Treaty and the Reform Treaty throughout the drawn-out process of treaty reform. The government regards finding a solution to the constitutional impasse as the most important task for the French Presidency, while recognizing that the Irish government has a special responsibility for proposing possible solutions. Government officials have, as a rule, avoided taking clear positions on what constitutes the best way out, recognizing that there are no simple solutions. In any case, Estonia supports the continuation of the ratification process by the member states that have not yet ratified the treaty.[1] The government also urges the EU to continue the enlargement process “with the same pace as previously outlined.”[2]
 
“Riigikogu”, the Estonian parliament, ratified the Lisbon Treaty on June 11th 2008 with 91 votes in favour and one against (previously, it had ratified the Constitutional Treaty on May 9th 2006). One of the smaller parties (People’s Union) wanted to insert a clause into the ratification bill stipulating the supremacy of the Estonian constitution over legal acts of the European Union. The Constitutional Committee of the “Riigikogu” declared that such an amendment would be legally incorrect and unnecessary given that a constitutional amendment, adopted prior to Estonian accession to the EU, already stipulates the compatibility of EU membership with the Estonian constitution.
The sentiments about the Irish ‘No’ expressed by the government appear to be broadly shared by members of the “Riigikogu”. Ene Ergma, speaker of the parliament, said that the ratification process must continue: “There is no plan B and there cannot be because the Lisbon Treaty was plan B. It is inconceivable that the Riigikogu would have to approve plan C, D and so on until the end of the alphabet.”[3] Marko Mihkelson, the chair of the European Affairs Committee of the “Riigikogu”, also confirmed that if the EU wants to be competitive, “there is no alternative to the Lisbon Treaty.”[4]
 
Coverage of the fate of the Lisbon Treaty in the Estonian media has been quite multi-faceted, although in the middle of the short Estonian summer, the public cannot be expected to pay too much attention. Prior to the ratification of the treaty by the “Riigikogu”, several eurosceptic leaders took up the constitutional compatibility issue. The diminishing role of the national parliament as a result of European integration was another major criticism. The proponents of the Lisbon Treaty, in contrast, have hailed the clauses increasing the involvement of national parliaments in EU decision making.
 
In wake of the Irish ‘No’, columnists pointed out that the referendum is a crude instrument, ill suited for making decisions on complicated international issues. According to one analysis, referendum votes on such treaties resemble attempts to “repair a watch with a blacksmith’s hammer”.[5] The situation where three million voters effectively made a decision for the 490 million inhabitants of the EU gave rise to new discussions about the conflict between state sovereignty and supranational democracy. Journalists and independent analysts have been less restrained in proposing possible scenarios and solutions than government officials. The various proposals that have been mentioned include holding a new referendum in Ireland, adopting declarations on issues of concern to Irish voters, and enforcing the treaty in 26 member states, with Ireland concluding a separate treaty with the EU.
 
Other opinion pieces, mostly by well-known but not very influential eurosceptics, have been explicitly critical of the direction and methods of the EU’s development. One such article depicted the Irish ‘No’ as an important ‘democratic victory’ and criticised the use of ‘political technologies’ to obtain results supportive of further centralisation and federalisation. Referring to the Irish referendums on the Nice Treaty, the author lamented the practice of holding new referendums under political pressure until the desired ‘Yes’ is obtained.[6]
 




[1] Estonia’s priorities in the European Union during the French Presidency, available under: www.vm.ee (last access: 1st of September 2008).

[2] Ministry of Foreign Affairs: Delays in Implementation of Lisbon Treaty Should Not Interfere with Expansion of European Union, statement by Foreign Minister Urmas Paet at EU Council meeting in Brest, France, press release, 13th of July 2008, available under: www.vm.ee (last access: 1st of September 2008).

[3] Estonia parliament: Ergma peab tähtsaks Lissaboni lepingu ratifitseerimisprotsessi jätkamist, press release, 20th of June 2008, available under: www.riigikogu.ee (last access: 1st of September 2008).

[4] Marko Mihkelson: Arvamus, Postimees, 14th of June 14, 2008.

[5] Ahto Lobjakas: Rahvusriik või Euroopa riik?, Postimees, 16th of June 2008.

[6] Anti Poolamets: Lissaboni leping kinnistab liitriigistumist, Eesti Päevaleht, 16th of June 2008.