Lisbon will bolster EU's global presence

Sat, Jul 25, 2009, 01:00

WORLD VIEW:THIS IS an important year in the history of the European Union. It marks the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall and the fifth anniversary of the accession of 10 new member states from central and eastern Europe. It is an important year in Ireland’s relations with the union with the referendum in October, writes BRIGID LAFFAN.

Before the white heat of referendum politics hits, it is important to assess why the EU needs the Lisbon Treaty. Inevitably once the referendum campaign begins, the focus will be on Ireland and Irish interests, but in assessing Irish interests it is vital to maintain a European perspective. Being a member state of the EU embeds Ireland in the wider EU polity.

The Lisbon Treaty enhances the constitutional architecture of the EU. It is superior to the Nice treaty in three important respects to do with Europe’s role in the world, the democratic fabric of European integration and the union’s capacity to act.

First, Lisbon will strengthen Europe’s voice and presence in the world. Europe and Ireland face major challenges over the next 20 years. Global population is set to grow by 23 per cent to 2025 compared to just 2 per cent in Europe, which will leave Europe at just 6 per cent of world population in 2025.

We are already seeing a shift in economic power to the emerging markets, notably, China, India and Brazil.

The challenge of climate change and climate justice is becoming ever more pressing. Security threats have altered across the globe. The financial crisis brings it home to us just how connected the world is.

The Lisbon Treaty will not solve all of the challenges facing Europe in the world but it is vital to the union’s search for greater global coherence and presence. Under Lisbon provisions, the high representative of the union for foreign affairs and security policy chairs the Council of Foreign Ministers and is also a member of the commission, thus bringing together the political, economic and security dimensions of foreign policy for the first time.

Europe will have a more identifiable global presence. International institutions, particularly the UN, are looking to the EU to play its part in addressing global problems. UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon, on his recent visit to Dublin, spoke of the EU as one of the UN’s most important partners given its capacity for crisis management, humanitarian relief and rapid response. Lisbon will also improve the union’s ability to develop an energy policy and tackle climate change.

Second, Lisbon will build up the democratic fabric of the EU in a number of important respects. Lisbon provides a map of the values that underpin the EU. A reading of the opening articles of the treaty leaves no doubt about the strong normative dimension that characterises the EU. Those articles are further strengthened by the Charter of Fundamental Rights which will become part of the union’s legal architecture if Lisbon is ratified.

The democratic fabric of the union is further strengthened by the increased powers of the European Parliament, the only directly transnational parliament with real powers in the world. Beginning with the Single Act in 1987, the powers of the parliament have increased so that it has become an equal legislature with the Council of Ministers. The parliament represents the people, while the council represents the governments.

The role of national parliaments is greatly improved. National parliaments will receive draft European legislation at an earlier stage in the legislative process and will be able to issue a yellow or orange card if they feel that the union is acting beyond its competence. In addition, there is provision for individual citizens to band together to make petitions to the EU. Put simply, this treaty is better for parliaments and people.

Third, the provisions of the Lisbon Treaty will enable the union of 27 and more states to function more efficiently and transparently. The provisions of Lisbon are much clearer about the competences of the union and the competences of the member states.

The new voting system is far simpler than the existing one and its dual character protects the interests of both large and small states. The identification of a new role, President of the European Council, will endow the council with a personality and a coherence that it has lacked heretofore. The European Council is at the political heart of the European Union as it brings together all of Europe’s key political leaders in a common search for solutions to the problems that they face. No European country, even the largest, can solve the multiple problems facing the continent on its own.

When we come to vote in October, it is important to bring both a national and European perspective to bear in the ballot box because this small state has a vital interest in a well functioning EU with the capacity to respond to Europe’s multiple problems.

The union has been debating institutional and treaty change for over seven years now, sometimes at the expense of the bigger issues facing the continent. Failure to ratify the Lisbon Treaty would greatly weaken the European Union both internally and internationally. It could well trigger disintegrative forces within the union which is not in Ireland’s interest.

More importantly, Lisbon is superior to the existing treaty in terms of its core values, Europe’s role in the world, the union’s democratic fabric and its capacity to act. The EU needs the Lisbon Treaty.

Brigid Laffan is principal at the UCD College of Human Sciences and chairwoman of Ireland for Europe which is campaigning for a Yes vote on October 2nd;

Paul Gillespie is on leave