Strong will to continue the European integration process

Immediately after the Irish ‘No’ to the Lisbon Treaty, the majority of the Italian political class expressed its disappointment for what is considered another failure in the European integration process. In a declaration made on June 13th the President of the Italian Republic, Giorgio Napolitano, affirmed that it is inconceivable that “the decision of not much more than half the voters of a country that represents less than 1 percent of the Union’s population can stop the necessary and urgent reform process.” This is the reason why Napolitano thinks that “the ratification process should go on” in order to obtain the 4/5 threshold required for the European Council to make its decisions.[1] Other representatives of the Italian political elite share Napolitano’s view. Among them, Giuliano Amato, former Prime Minister, said that it is not possible to renounce ratification of the treaty because “a very small minority cannot be allowed to decide against the overwhelming majority of European citizens”[2].


Other politicians have expressed their opinion on the referendum’s outcome, giving rise to a debate that provoked tension in the government coalition. The Italian Prime Minister, Silvio Berlusconi, has reaffirmed his desire to proceed with ratification, and reassured European Commission President José Manuel Barroso during his visit to the Italian parliament, that “the Italian parliament will soon approve the Lisbon Treaty”.[3] The president of the lower chamber of the Italian parliament (“Camera dei deputati”), Gianfranco Fini, has added that the ratification will take place before the summer break.[4]


However, these declarations are the outcome of a confrontation within the government coalition. Components of the “Lega Nord” have not made secret their opposition to the treaty. Among them, Roberto Castelli, undersecretary for infrastructure, affirmed that “the European bureaucrats have been defeated” by the Irish ‘No’.[5] Roberto Calderoli, Minister for Legal Simplification, has demanded a referendum on the treaty in Italy, declaring that his party would campaign in favour of a ‘No’ vote.[6] In any case, after the UK’s ratification, the leader of the “Lega Nord”, Umberto Bossi, affirmed that his party would vote for the Lisbon Treaty, making it possible for the government coalition to reach a common position.[7]


On July the 23rd, the Italian senate (“Senato della Republicca”) unanimously approved the ratification of the Lisbon Treaty.[8] On that occasion, representatives of the opposition party, “Partito Democratico”, expressed their satisfaction that the treaty would be ratified in the near future since it “will lead to a simplification of the architectural construction of the European Union”[9] and “represents an important step forward in the building of a stronger European Union”[10]. Immediately after the vote, the Italian Minister for Foreign Affairs, Franco Frattini, stated that in this way “Italy confirms its desire for Europe”[11], while in the opinion of the Minister for Communitarian Policies, Andrea Ronchi, “the unanimous vote shows that Italy wants to play a serious and responsible role in Europe”[12]. On July 31st, the lower chamber of the Italian parliament has unanimously voted in favour of the ratification. The Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi has commented on this result saying that it can be considered as “Italy’s contribution to the relaunch of Europe”[13].


In Italy, the post-referendum debate has focussed on possible explanations for the Irish ‘No’ and proposals and prospects for the future of the EU. With regard to the reasons for the negative outcome of the referendum, there is widespread agreement that the Irish people voted against the Lisbon Treaty because they perceive the EU as something distant and actually do not understand its real meaning. However, according to the majority of opinions expressed on this issue, there seems to be something happening that goes beyond the actual outcome of the referendum, since many observers interpreted it as a way to manifest dissatisfaction with domestic politics. Margherita Boniver, a deputy from the party “Popolo delle libertà”, stated that the Irish referendum could be considered an expression of ‘anti-politics’ against the majority of political parties that were in favour of the ‘Yes’ vote.[14] When considered from this point of view, the Irish ‘No’ can be seen as “proof of the incapacity” of the Irish elite that, even if they were in favour of the Lisbon Treaty, they didn’t manage to convince their own public to vote in favour of it.[15] It has also been affirmed that the Irish people’s disaffection with the new treaty is to a large extent created by the European governments themselves, which always speak about the European Union as a “far away entity” in order to “free themselves of any responsibility for decisions that are difficult or not appreciated”.[16]


In order to find a solution to the obstacle represented by the Irish ‘No’, many proposals have been raised in Italy in the last months, not only by members of the political class, but also by members of the academic and research communities.


Firstly, there is the possibility of abandoning the Lisbon Treaty without any new proposals on either the issues or the functioning of the EU. However, this solution seems to be the least feasible, not only because it would imply renouncing agreements among the member states on some important matters,[17] but also because it would be ‘political suicide’: the EU-27 still works according to a system conceived to manage a six-member community which is no longer sustainable.[18]


Secondly, there has been a proposal to modify the Lisbon Treaty or even replace it with a new one, but this idea does not find the approval of Italian observers either. Stefano Silvestri, president of the “Istituto Affari Internazionali”, believes that this solution is not practicable for two main reasons: because it has already failed once and because it is still not clear what kind of changes could make the treaty more attractive for the people.


The third proposal is that Ireland could be encouraged to ‘opt out’ – something that has already happened in Europe in the past.[19] However, this solution would raise new difficulties. According to Gianni Bonvicini, vice-president of the “Istituto Affari Internazionali”, there would be two problems in particular: first, the Lisbon Treaty itself calls for ratification by all 27 member states; moreover, “while it is possible to opt out from some policies or operational mechanisms, it is difficult to imagine an institutional opting out, that is, from the new decisional procedures and the new powers inscribed in the Lisbon Treaty”[20].


The fourth is the option of creating a strong core of ‘willing and able’ countries that do not feel satisfied with the Nice Treaty and want to go on with the integration process.[21] This ‘federalist core’ would be set up inside the EU, but separately from it,[22] and could possibly be based on a French-German Union.[23] This approach results in a ‘two-speed’ Europe, which has been the centre of a heated debate in Italy. The idea of a Europe in which some countries go ahead with cooperation, while others are left behind has been supported by the Italian Minister for Foreign Affairs, Franco Frattini, who has affirmed that a ‘two-speed EU’ is important for our country, since “Italy cannot renounce European immigration and energy policies” and will pursue these policies with those countries that want to take part in them.[24] President Napolitano seems to share this view when he stated that “it is time for a brave choice on the part of those who want the European construction to develop coherently, leaving aside those who – notwithstanding the commitments they have subscribed to – threaten to block it”[25]. This seems to be one of the most feasible solutions, even if there have been some objections to it. To cite just one example, Mario Mauro, vice-president of the European Parliament, thinks that, by sustaining a Europe that proceeds at different speeds, we may actually weaken it to the point that it is unable to survive the pressures coming from emerging countries, such as India or China.[26] Therefore, the question that still remains unsolved at the center of this debate is whether a ‘two-speed Europe’ constitutes an opportunity for the EU to grow stronger or would the added fragmentation weaken it.


Finally, another feasible scenario is that of reaching a higher level of integration through a policy-based approach, that is, the ‘functional approach’ already experimented with in the past, for example the Euro.[27] This implies the promotion of strong initiatives by some governments that are willing to cooperate in important fields, such as defence, energy and the environment.[28] The advantage of such an approach would lie in the fact that, by stressing the importance of the targets, “the decisional procedures would be result-oriented”[29]. However, even here there would be some shortcomings. It has been noted that these initiatives may be taken by different groups of countries and that the intergovernmental approach might be preferred to the communitarian one, thus blocking the construction of a more cohesive Europe.[30]


This overview shows that in Italy there is a strong will in the political elite and the highest offices of the State to go on with ratification and to promote stronger coordination among those countries willing to continue with the European integration process. The main target for Italy now is to ratify the treaty and keep apace of those countries that have always played a leading role in Europe.



[1] Declaration of President Napolitano on the outcome of the Irish referendum on the ratification of the Lisbon Treaty, 13th of June 2008, available under: http://www.quirinale.it/Comunicati/Comunicato.asp?id=36155 (last access: 28th of August 2008).


[2] Il Sole 24 ore: Il no dell’Irlanda non può fermarci, 14th of June 2008, available under: http://rassegna.camera.it/chiosco_new/pagweb/immagineFrame.asp?comeFrom=search&currentArticle=IEREU (last access: 28th of August 2008).


[3] Il Sole 24 ore: Sì al Trattato entro l’estate, 16th of July 2008, available under: http://rassegna.camera.it/chiosco_new/pagweb/immagineFrame.asp?comeFrom=search&currentArticle=IPMLA (last access: 28th of August 2008).


[4] Ibid.


[5] La Repubblica: Ue: “No” Irlanda spacca il governo. Il premier ai ministri: “Preoccupato”,13th of June 2008, available under: http://www.repubblica.it/2008/06/sezioni/esteri/irlanda-referendum/polemiche-governo/polemiche-governo.html (last access: 28th of August 2008).


[6] Il Giornale: Ma questa è l’Europa delle burocrazie, 20th of June 2008, available under: http://rassegna.camera.it/chiosco_new/pagweb/immagineFrame.asp?comeFrom=search&currentArticle=IGUXX (last access: 28th of August 2008).


[7] Berlusconi: Sì al Trattato UE”. Bossi zittisce i suoi: “Lo voteremo”, La Repubblica, 19th of June 2008, available under: http://www.repubblica.it/2008/06/sezioni/esteri/irlanda-referendum/berlusconi-trattato/berlusconi-trattato.html (last access: 28th of August 2008).


[8] See: http://www.senato.it/notizie/index.htm (last access: 28th of August 2008).


[9] T. Blazina in Discussion and Approval of the law draft n. 759 – Lisbon Treaty Ratification, available under: http://www.senato.it/japp/bgt/showdoc/frame.jsp?tipodoc=Resaula&leg=16&id=307716 (last access: 28th of August 2008).


[10] N. Randazzo in Discussion and Approval of the law draft n. 759 – Lisbon Treaty Ratification, available under: http://www.senato.it/japp/bgt/showdoc/frame.jsp?tipodoc=Resaula&leg=16&id=307716 (last access: 28th of August 2008).


[11] Il Sole 24 ore: Lisbona, dal Senato il primo sì unanime, 24th of July 2008, available under: http://85.116.228.24/Stampa/utility/imgrs.asp?numart=ISE1B&numpag=1&tipcod=0&tipimm=0&defimm=1&tipnav=1&isjpg=S (last access: 28th of August 2008).


[12] Avvenire: Via libera del Senato al Trattato di Lisbona, 24th of July 2008, available under: http://85.116.228.24/Stampa/utility/imgrs.asp?numart=ISF9V&numpag=1&tipcod=0&tipimm=0&defimm=1&tipnav=1&isjpg=S (last access: 28th of August 2008).


[13] Corriere della Sera: Trattato UE, la Camera dà il via libera, 31st of July 2008, available under: http://www.corriere.it/politica/08_luglio_31/trattato_ue_via_libera_camera_540facfa-5eee-11dd-89c2-00144f02aabc.shtml (last access: 28th of August 2008).


[14] La voce repubblicana: Quei trattati troppo distanti, 18th of June 2008, available under: http://rassegna.camera.it/chiosco_new/pagweb/immagineFrame.asp?comeFrom=search&currentArticle=IG4DV (last access: 28th of August 2008).


[15] S. Silvestri: L’Unione al bivio, Affari Internazionali, 16th of June 2008, available under: http://www.affarinternazionali.it/articolo.asp?ID=857 (last access: 28th of August 2008).


[16] R. Perissich: L’Europa fra Dublino e Lisbona, Affari Internazionali, 24th of June 2008, available under: http://www.affarinternazionali.it/articolo.asp?ID=875 (last access: 28th of August 2008).


[17] A. Padoa Schioppa: Dopo il voto irlandese: che fare?, doc. EuropEos 2/2008, July 2008.


[18] F. Bindi: Arrivederci Irlanda. E grazie, Affari Internazionali, 18th of June 2008, available under: http://www.affarinternazionali.it/articolo.asp?ID=862 (last access: 28th of August 2008).


[19] A. Padoa Schioppa: Dopo il voto irlandese: che fare?, doc. EuropEos 2/2008, July 2008.


[20] G. Bonvicini: Dublino vale un Trattato?, Affari Internazionali, 14th of June 2008, available under: http://www.affarinternazionali.it/articolo.asp?ID=856 (last access: 28th of August 2008).


[21] Ibid.


[22] S. Silvestri: L’Unione al bivio, Affari Internazionali, 16th of June 2008, available under: http://www.affarinternazionali.it/articolo.asp?ID=857 (last access: 28th of August 2008).


[23] G. Bonvicini, Dublino vale un Trattato?, Affari Internazionali, 14th of June 2008, available under: http://www.affarinternazionali.it/articolo.asp?ID=856 (last access: 28th of August 2008).


[24] La Stampa: Piano Marshall per la Palestina ma senza Hamas, 3rd of July 2008, available under: http://rassegna.camera.it/chiosco_new/pagweb/immagineFrame.asp?comeFrom=search&currentArticle=ILAJ3 (last access: 28th of August 2008).


[25] Declaration of the President Napolitano on the outcome of the Irish referendum on the ratification of the Lisbon Treaty, 13th of June 2008, available under: http://www.quirinale.it/Comunicati/Comunicato.asp?id=36155 (last access: 28th of August 2008).


[26] Corriere della Sera: Avanti tutti insieme o non ce la faremo a competere domani, 22nd of June 2008, available under: http://rassegna.camera.it/chiosco_new/pagweb/immagineFrame.asp?comeFrom=search&currentArticle=IHKSJ (last access: 28th of August 2008).


[27] S. Silvestri: L’Unione al bivio, Affari Internazionali, 16th of June 2008, available under: http://www.affarinternazionali.it/articolo.asp?ID=857 (last access: 28th of August 2008); A. Padoa Schioppa: Dopo il voto irlandese: che fare?, doc. EuropEos 2/2008, July 2008.


[28] Ibid.


[29] Ibid.


[30] S. Silvestri: L’Unione al bivio, Affari Internazionali, 16th of June 2008, available under: http://www.affarinternazionali.it/articolo.asp?ID=857 (last access: 28th of August 2008).