The EU Reform Treaty: easier signed than ratified?

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

There is “no time to lose” if majorities in favour of the treaty in national parliaments and the wider public are to be mobilised, writes Sara Hagemann in a July 2007 paper for the European Policy Centre (EPC).

She observes that if the ratification process is to begin in a few months as expected, governments must launch a wider debate on the treaty now or face “potentially serious consequences”. 

The Portuguese Presidency “met its first major challenge” by submitting the draft Reform Treaty to the Intergovernmental Conference (IGC) on 23-24 July, states the EPC paper. The second is ensuring the negotiations reach a timely conclusion, allowing the new treaty to be signed by EU leaders at the summit on 18-19 October, it adds. 

It will require a “carefully orchestrated” process to ensure the new treaty is ratified and comes into force, believes Hagemann. She outlines three main reasons why the IGC mandate agreed at the June summit may run into problems: 

  • At the end of the summit, EU leaders only reached a verbal agreement on the mandate, which was not put on paper until the German Presidency’s conclusions were circulated after the end of the negotiations – leading to Poland’s threat to reopen the issue of voting rights. 
  • The IGC is sovereign in deciding on the content, form and path of the new treaty, meaning that the claim that the text is already “closed and sealed” could be legally challenged. 
  • The treaty will require ratification at national level, and although most EU governments are determined to avoid referenda, this may not be possible in some cases. 

The author does not envisage any ratification problems in Germany, Italy, Greece, Hungary, Sweden, Lithuania, Latvia, Slovenia, Estonia, Cyprus or Malta, as all should ratify with absolute or simple majorities in parliament. 

Of the countries that require a two-thirds parliamentary majority, Hagemann predicts that Austria and Finland will ratify, but anticipates complications in Poland and Belgium. 

More problematic are the situations in France, Slovakia and the Czech Republic, where three-fifths majorities in parliament are required. Hagemann predicts that Sarkozy will be able to resist calls for a French referendum and that parliament will ratify the treaty. 

The UK, the Netherlands, the Czech Republic, Portugal and Denmark are all under intense pressure to call referenda. Hagemann predicts that the result would be a “resounding ‘No'” in the UK. 

The paper concludes that much remains to be done if the institutional reform process is to result in an enforceable treaty and that success or failure depends on whether any member state other than Ireland calls a referendum – in which case it would be difficult for others to avoid following suit. Governments must recognise that the support of their parliaments and citizens cannot be taken for granted, she adds. 

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