Nine years’ gestation, a difficult birth, 231 pages, undetermined weight: A treaty is born

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV Media network.

“The unedifying spectacle of the ‘ratification saga’ and subsequent institutional patch-up […] should lead us to ask again about the desirability of retaining the veto, which allows a single member state to paralyse the entire [European] Union,” argues French think-tank Notre Europe in a December paper.

“It seemed a lost hope and yet on 1 December 2009 the Treaty of Lisbon was born. This after a nine-year gestation which began when the Belgian EU Presidency drew up the Laeken Declaration in 2001. The first steps in its implementation concerned the new job positions, created to ensure more stability in the European Council’s work and better coherence in the Union’s external action.

Notre Europe‘s committee, assembled on 6-7 November in Paris, issued a declaration entitled ‘The European Union after Lisbon: A three-part counterpoint‘, which emphasised that ‘a key role will fall to the future permanent president of the European Council, who must be a person dedicated to the European cause, from a country which takes part in all the Union’s policies’.

For this reason Jacques Delors and Notre Europe welcomed the choice of Mr Van Rompuy, whose qualities should allow him to become the needed ‘chairman’, facilitating the European Council’s work and respectful of the institutional balance at the heart of the Community method.

Despite the (justified) attention given to the choice of personalities over the last few weeks, we must not forget that the Lisbon Treaty contains other innovations which will significantly affect the EU’s functioning. A major change is that codecision between the European Parliament and the majority-voting Council will become the norm for most legislation.

Another important novelty, on the eve of negotiations for the next EU financial perspectives, is the extension of the European Parliament’s competency over the budget. For a wider survey, the reader may refer to the analysis made by Notre Europe at the time of the European Council’s accord on this new Reform Treaty.

On institutions, a corner has been turned; the subject will doubtless not be revisited for some time. It is now high time to use all the potential of this treaty to develop European policies urgently needed in this period of economic crisis and continuing globalisation. High on the agenda is the international conference on climate change in Copenhagen, and the associated question of sustainable development – a decisive one if we are to rethink the Union’s growth strategy in the coming decade.

Notre Europe is publishing a study entitled, ‘An Ever Less Carbonated Union? Towards a better European taxation against climate change,’ written by Jacques Le Cacheux and Eloi Laurent. The authors propose a reform of European carbon taxation, concerning both Europe’s emission permits market and its various tax regimes for carbon.

But before turning this page, it would be irresponsible to ignore the causes of the Lisbon Treaty’s difficult birth. The ‘citizens’ malaise’ expressed in several negative referendum results must not be dismissed casually, especially given that the European elections also failed to mobilise those citizens.

The unedifying spectacle of the ‘ratification saga’ and subsequent institutional patch-up was witnessed both inside and outside Europe. It should lead us to ask again about the desirability of retaining the veto, which allows a single member state to paralyse the entire Union.

Notre Europe believes that this issue merits further thinking, and is publishing the second part of a in-depth examination of procedures for revising treaties. The first part considered the institutional instrument of the ‘Convention‘. This time the ratification process is the subject of a proposal for radical reform, in a paper entitled ‘Revising the European Treaties: An argument in favour of abolishing the veto‘.” 

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