The Lisbon Treaty's ratification
British public debate on the EU has focused in recent months on the Lisbon Treaty. The central thread running through political and media discussion has been the process of the Treaty's ratification, particularly contentious because of the commitment Mr Blair gave in 2004 to hold a referendum on the Lisbon Treaty’s predecessor, the Constitutional Treaty. Jack Straw MP, then Foreign Secretary, has since conceded that this promise was made to assuage the public "clamour" for a referendum. After the French and Dutch "no" votes, some commentators credited Mr Blair with a tactical success: he had deferred intensive media and political scrutiny of the Constitutional Treaty, perhaps indefinitely, by promising a referendum, correctly calculating that, in the event, it would not be held.
As reported in the previous editions of EU-25/27 Watch on Turkey, developments in the EU receive political and public reactions and national media coverage only when they relate to the accession of Turkey to the EU. The issue of the future of the EU is no exception in this regard. Therefore the debate on EU’s future received public opinion’s attention to the extent that it, in the eyes of the public, was linked to Turkish membership. This means that matters such as those related to the timetable and the technical process for ratification of the Treaty were of no interest to Turks, as Turkey is not expected to ratify the Treaty. Such disinterest in the future of the EU is also aggravated by the fact that Turkish attitude towards the EU in general is growing increasingly sceptical in seeing Turkey in the EU.
Sweden has historically been rather hesitant of far-reaching supranational cooperation within the EU and has to a large extent approached the EU from an intergovernmental perspective. This characterization has been gradually changing in recent years, especially so in the last two years since the centre-right coalition government has been in office. The current government has repeatedly stated that Sweden is to belong to the core of European integration. Among the priorities is of course to get the reform treaty ratified, a treaty that is perceived by the government to be substantially positive. “We are very satisfied with the result”, proclaimed Swedish Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt already after the European Council meeting in June 2007. In the government’s work program for EU affairs for the fall of 2007, it was further noted that it was to be a Swedish priority to work actively for the intergovernmental conference on treaty reform to execute the mandate given by the European Council. The Social Democrats are equally positive to Sweden’s ratification of the treaty and neither the government nor the Social Democrats want a Swedish referendum on the issue. In contrast, as has been the repeatedly the case regarding EU issues in Sweden, the Green Party and the Left Party are of a different opinion.
The next Spanish national elections will be held on 9 March 2008, following the dissolution of the current Parliament on 14 January 2008. Thus, the ratification process of the Lisbon Treaty can start only after the formation of the new government resulting from these elections. Obviously, no official timetable for ratification has been announced yet. Alberto Navarro, the current Spanish Secretary for the European Union, declared on 17 January that ratification would not take place until June or July at the earliest. It is, however, unlikely for the entire ratification process to be completed by the new Parliament before the summer and it is even possible for there to be a delay until September or October 2008.
For the Slovenian government, the Lisbon Treaty represents a successful closure of a process which began with the fall of the Berlin Wall and continued with the big-bang enlargement of the EU in 2004, in which Slovenia also played part. Signing of the Lisbon Treaty also ended a period of uncertainty which appeared due to the two negative referenda results in the spring of 2005. The new Treaty brings higher integration of the EU, raises the efficiency of its functioning and brings the Union closer to its citizens. The Lisbon Treaty includes almost all the novelties of the non-ratified Treaty establishing a Constitution for Europe.
Due to co-decision by European Parliament and the Council, the Treaty increases the democratic principles of the Union. National parliaments are to be included much more intensively into the legislative procedure with higher authorities. The Charter of fundamental rights is to become legally binding which enables the citizens to profit from an understandable catalogue of fundamental rights. The possibility of a citizen’s petition is pointed out as a positive way of direct people’s participation. A second contribution of the Treaty is therefore to making the functioning of the EU more transparent and understandable.
The majority of Slovakia’s politicians welcomed the signing of the Lisbon Treaty in December 2007. In fact, there is only one parliamentary party – the opposition Christian Democratic Movement (KDH) – that does not support the adoption of the Lisbon Treaty. The members of parliament representing the KDH use the same arguments against the Lisbon Treaty that they used in opposing the EU Constitution. They object the legally binding nature of the Charter of Fundamental Rights and criticize further transfer of competencies to the level of the EU. However, all other parliamentary parties have consistently favoured the adoption of the Lisbon Treaty.
The beginning of the period of the Lisbon Treaty ratification, after its signature in December 2007, has been a new opportunity for Romanian President Traian Băsescu, as well as for the Prime Minister, Călin Popescu Tăriceanu, to restate the importance of Romania’s participation – for the first time as a fully-fledged Member State – to the signature of a Treaty that is crucial for the future of an institutional architecture shaped according to the EU’s current formula of 27 Member States. According to the statements made by the Prime Minister, Călin Popescu Tăriceanu, at the closing of the European Council’s session in Brussels, “the formal closure of the debates regarding institutional matters, alongside with the conclusion of this Treaty, mark a new stage, that allows us to highlight specific projects that address the European Union's citizens. This is the so-called Europe of Results stage (…). It is very important to move forward to the next level, which is to ratify the Reform Treaty”.
Timetable for ratification
The decision to ratify the Lisbon Treaty in Parliament and not through a referendum was announced by the Socialist Prime Minister, José Sócrates, in the beginning of January 2008. The delay in the announcement had been justified by the desire to avoid doing so during the Portuguese Presidency.
Parliamentary ratification still does not have a set date. The process is likely, however, to be completed by the end of April, after the presentation, planned for 16 April 2008, of a report by the Parliament Commission on European Affairs, which is supposed to include the results of public sessions of MPs in a number of cities.
The last elections eliminated the eurosceptic and populist parties (League of Polish Families and Self-Defence) form the Polish Parliament. Only four parties reached the required 5% threshold and managed to send their deputies to the new Parliament. All four of them support the Lisbon Treaty in the current form (with the Polish opt-out from the Charter of Fundamental Rights). The new governing coalition partners the Civic Platform (which received 42% of the votes in the October 2007 elections) and the Peasants Party (9%) support the swift ratification of the new treaty. At the outset the government has even proclaimed that it would be good if Poland could ratify the treaty as the first member state. Such stance was met with support from the social-democrats (13% of the votes) who always supported the treaty, and were against the tough negotiating stance on the issue of the previous Law and Justice government (it should be reminded that the previous government’s position on the distribution of votes was supported by the Civic Platform). The Law and Justice (32%) which negotiated the treaty supports it, provided that the opt-out from the Charter is upheld.
The EU strategy of the new Cabinet Balkenende-IV had to reconcile two seemingly contradictory objectives. First: to avoid the prospect of a second referendum on a new treaty and, thereby, potential isolation in the EU. Second: the need to address the gap between politics and electorate as regards the EU, which had emerged after the 2005 referendum. The above led the government to take a somewhat hybrid position in the treaty negotiations, focusing on the delivery of ‘safeguards’ against unwelcome EU influence.