The Reform Treaty is a “relatively small step” in the EU’s institutional development, marking “neither a major development” nor a “substantial change of direction” in that process, writes Brendan Donnelly of the Federal Union.
The 9 September article states that although the treaty is “another step in the legislative process”, it does not represent “any significant watershed” in EU integration.
Even so, the political process which led to the treaty is one that is “full of lessons” for the future, claims Donnelly. He believes that for those involved in the Convention that drafted the first treaty, the Reform Treaty will be “an especial disappointment” because a lot of the Convention’s work has “fallen by the wayside”.
Moreover, the Reform Treaty is proof of European leaders’ belief that confidence in the EU “was being undermined by institutional debates which were not themselves of crucial importance”, he adds.
Donnelly claims that the process has shown that in future it will be “very difficult for the EU to proceed other than incrementally in its institutional deepening”, and that the settling for the lowest common denominator may be the only way of achieving “ratifiable agreements”.
The author believes that those member states that had wanted to go even further in their institutional integration than the original Constitutional Treaty are now unlikely to be able to do so in the current framework “for many years to come, or perhaps ever”, without resorting to the Reform Treaty’s provision for “enhanced cooperation”.
Donnelly adds that the obstacles to such arrangements are “formidable”, and thus speculates that integrationist countries will thus content themselves with making “the greatest possible use” of the Schengen area, Justice and Home Affairs and the euro zone, all areas which offer “substantial integrationist momentum” and in which the UK’s restraining influence is “limited”.
Meanwhile, he points to the “growing confidence” of the EU in environmental, trade and energy policy.
Donnelly concludes by stating that “those who feared or hoped that the French and Dutch referendums of 2005 marked an end to the integrative process […] are unlikely to see their hopes or fears confirmed by the realities of the coming years.”