Verhofstadt: ‘Change’ comes to Europe after Irish vote

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The Czech and Polish presidents have little choice left but to complete their countries’ ratification processes after the massive ‘yes’ vote in favour of the Lisbon Treaty in Ireland, according to Guy Verhofstadt, leader of the liberal ALDE group in the European Parliament. He spoke to EURACTIV in an exclusive interview.

Guy Verhofstadt was prime minister of Belgium when the process of drafting a new EU treaty was launched in the Brussels suburb of Laeken in 2001. Considered ‘too federalist’ by many, his name is nevertheless frequently cited as a possible candidate to become the first permanent president of the European Council. 

He was speaking to EURACTIV’s Georgi Gotev. 

Please click here for the original text of this interview in French.

You said even before the final results of the Irish referendum became public that 500 million Europeans had ratified the Lisbon Treaty, either directly or through their national parliaments. But two heads of state are still obstructing its final ratification… 

Indeed. What today’s news means is that all the peoples of Europe, either directly through popular consultation or indirectly through their parliaments, have said ‘yes’. And to finalise this process, two signatures are needed. And this is the only development we can expect now, after 27 peoples of the Union said ‘yes’. 

What could the European Parliament do under these circumstances? 

I think we will have a debate in the European Parliament next week. This will be important, but what we should expect today, it’s the results, the fallout from this massive Irish ‘yes’. And change! Because we can understand that there were doubts with the Lisbon Treaty, that there have been negative votes. But in the meantime, with the economic crisis, the Irish said: we need Europe, we need the euro! Without the euro and the Union, we would have had chaos throughout the continent, in this economic and financial crisis! This is what explains, in my view, the massive shift in Ireland. 

Are we in a completely new situation? 

Exactly. And I think this new situation will bear fruit now. I cannot imagine how one or the other head of state could block something that has been approved by the 27 populations of the European Union. Once again, as was in the case for Ireland, through popular consultation, or by the parliaments. Really! I cannot imagine it – it would be in complete disagreement with the democratic functioning of the continent! 

It would be legal, but undemocratic? 

Precisely! You said it, but it sums up well the situation. 

But there is a problem. The June European Council decided that the process of nominating the other people to be appointed as members of the Commission can only be initiated when the legal basis for the nomination procedure has become clear – either based on the Nice Treaty or on the Lisbon Treaty. However, we are not yet in the context of the Lisbon Treaty… 

June, that was a long time ago. For politics, it is an eternity which is already behind us. 

Let’s speak of another eternity. In your speech prepared in advance, you mentioned the 2001 Laeken summit. You were Belgium’s prime minister at the time, and it was during this summit that the discussion over the next European treaty began. You appear to take some pride out of these times?

Yes, yes, indeed, because we started at that time, eight years ago, and back then, it was a dream, to make the Union more democratic and transparent, with less unanimity, with more possibilities for citizens’ petitions, this was our dream. And now our dream is coming true, that’s what is important. 

Do you have a dream regarding the future EU president? 

It was a very good interview. 

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