What next? How to save the Treaty of Lisbon

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

Most suggestions on how to proceed following the Irish ‘no’ vote on the Lisbon Treaty “entail considerable political costs” despite being legally feasible, argue Daniel Gros and Sebastian Kurpas of the Centre for European Policy Studies (CEPS), instead proposing their own solution to the impasse.

Their June paper addresses the following options, arguing that none of them satisfy political concerns: 

  • Give up the Lisbon Treaty and continue with the Treaty of Nice: Seen as an “easy way out”, this solution “would be highly problematic for the credibility of the EU” and strenghthen the notion that it is unable to reform its institutions, believe the authors. 
  • Reopen negotiations on a new Treaty: This is “the least likely of all options,” they claim, as doing so would necessitate dealing with “additional demands” made by member states. 
  • Flexible integration‘: Both a “core Europe” consisting of particular countries or a “Europe à la carte” composed of country groupings on specific issues would be unable to achieve key institutional reforms, believe the authors. It would make the system more complex and incoherent and lead to a “lack of transparency”, they say, suggesting that “common standards would be replaced by first class and second class members” thus impacting on democratic values. 
  • Continue the ratification process and hold a second referendum on the Treaty of Lisbon in Ireland: The authors argue that this is the most realistic option as “a second referendum would have a higher chance of succeeding once all 26 have ratified”. But they admit that holding another vote on the same issues would be a “high-risk strategy” as a second Irish rejection would leave the bloc in the same “legal impasse” if not worse. “The Treaty of Lisbon would effectively be dead, unless some other method is found that would allow the Union to proceed even without Ireland.” 

To overcome the obstacles in all of the above, Gros and Kurpas propose their own ‘Plan B’ to resolve the impasse. Member states would “ratify the consolidated treaties as amended by the Treaty of Lisbon”. This consolidated text would contain “exactly the same substance” as the Lisbon Treaty. Once all 26 member states have ratified it, it would be submitted to Ireland, which could be presented with protocols or opt-outs on sensitive issues such as tax policy, neutrality and abortion, the authors explain. 

The paper concludes that a second Irish referendum could ask the question: “Does Ireland wish to join the EU 26 with the Lisbon Treaty in force?”. This would effectively confront the Irish with two alternatives: ‘in’ or ‘out’. 

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