Support for Lisbon Treaty was unnecessary investment of political capital

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

"Almost ten years after signing the Treaty, and seven years after my departure from politics, I know for sure that the support for the Lisbon Treaty was unnecessary," writes Mirek Topolánek. [Mirek Topolanek]

The mantra of European elites for the support of the Lisbon Treaty included greater transparency of the decision-making process. Almost ten years after signing the Treaty, Mirek Topolánek says he now knows “for sure” that his support was unnecessary.

Mirek Topolánek is the former prime minister of the Czech Republic (2006-2009). In 2009, he held the rotating presidency of the Council of the EU. He is now chairman of the Association of District Heating in the Czech Republic.

After I signed the Lisbon Treaty back in 2007 on behalf of the Czech Republic, I faced almost a two-year long ordeal of defending this document against my fellow citizens. I dare to say that along with presiding over the European Council in times of economic crisis, this was perhaps the single most difficult task of my political career.

The mantra of European elites for the support of the Lisbon Treaty included greater transparency of the decision-making process, improved readiness for action of the European Union, greater involvement of citizens, less backstage decision-making and the elimination of democratic deficit. It should be noted that I myself had some doubts about my signature of the Lisbon Treaty, but the political situation in Europe and in my country led me to the renowned “Soft yes” for the Treaty.

Almost ten years after signing it and seven years after my departure from politics, I know for sure that the support for the Lisbon Treaty was unnecessary.

The latest sign of this came with the vote of the Comitology Committee on the guidance document for Best Available Techniques (BAT) for large combustion plants. I do not question the environmental benefits of the decision itself because it sets stringent emission limits for power plants and other combustion plants that their operators will have to meet within the next four years.

However, what I do question is the very process of dealing with such a crucial document. The European Commission official chairing the committee meeting with EU member states representatives has not allowed any discussion – not only on his own material, but also on the newly submitted amendments. Such a procedure has nothing to do with greater transparency of the decision-making process of EU institutions. I dare to say it directly prevents member states from exercising effective control when exercising the Commission’s implementation powers. Furthermore, it is in direct contradiction with Regulation No. 182/2011.

The proposal was eventually approved by the lowest possible majority of weighted votes at the cost of concessions by the Commission representative in favour of a single member state. The Commission preferred backstage and fast-paced negotiations instead of searching for broad support and consensus. It is unacceptable for the Commission official to pull up a new proposal without any justification at the Committee meeting just like a magician pulls up a rabbit from a hat.

Moreover, in a situation where other highly technically substantiated and justified proposals with broad support were rejected by the Commission in the final document. This completely degraded the approval process and instead of improving transparency it rather leads us to the Machiavellian mud. This is certainly not the way leading to renewal of citizen’s trust into the EU institutions.

The Commission gained only 0.15% more of weighted votes to support its proposal thanks to behind-the-scene intrusions. The fact that eight member states had a fundamental objection to the proposal and were opposed to it was of no interest to the Committee officials. They completed their task. The fact that the “achievement” of the officials will cause significant socio-economic issues to the eight member states involved with which they will have to come to terms, is beyond the interest of the officials involved and their tenure.

Loss of jobs, rising energy prices for end-users, reduced competitiveness of energy-intensive industries – these are the implications of such technocratic decision-making. This will certainly not increase the trust of EU citizens in their institutions.

My friend Jean-Claude Juncker visited my country last week and promised structural help to vulnerable regions in new Member States. But the above-mentioned decision on large combustion plants will significantly affect the very same European regions. Jean-Claude is a very wise man, and I very much appreciate his REFIT initiative concerning the maximum possible elimination of regulation and useless legislation as much as I appreciate his effort to regain the legitimacy of the European Union. I therefore look up to the College of Commissioners and hope it will return the proposal to the Comitology Committee for re-admission to comply with EU law.

I believe in the wisdom of the Commission members and their correct choice in view of the values for which the European Union stands.

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