Lisbon Yes will make EU fit for global challenges

Wed, Jul 15, 2009, 01:00

OPINION:If we want the European Union to respond effectively to international financial, energy and climate change crises we must empower it to do so

AS A PUBLIC representative who is neither starry-eyed about the Lisbon Treaty, nor focused exclusively on its flaws, I would like to argue that – on balance – it is worth supporting. Lisbon represents a considerable improvement on the Nice Treaty. It gives more power to the directly-elected European Parliament. It empowers national parliaments to scrutinise and, if necessary, to block draft EU legislation.

A progressive EU bill of rights – the Charter of Fundamental Rights – is given treaty status. Energy solidarity and the tackling of climate change are included as treaty objectives. The European Parliament is given a say for the first time in new European trade agreements. EU powers and competences are clearly outlined for the first time.

In addition, Lisbon contains an exit clause providing procedures for member states wishing to leave the EU. Furthermore, following the first Irish rejection, the Irish Government has secured a series of legal guarantees on Lisbon. These guarantees fully protect Ireland’s national autonomy in a number of sensitive policy areas. They allow us to retain a permanent commissioner. The guarantees are legally binding, and will be attached to the EU treaties by means of a protocol in the near future.

If I had to name just one compelling reason to support the Lisbon Treaty, however, it is because the treaty will enhance the capacity of the EU to become a more effective actor at an international level. Why is this so important? Changing economic and geopolitical realities mean we now live in a very interdependent world where collective action is increasingly a matter of necessity rather than choice. As a global community, we face a number of serious challenges which no previous generation has had to confront.

The EU represents a “higher-order” political system, where nation states have chosen to pool some of their sovereignty in order to be better equipped to respond to these international challenges.

In the early stages of the 21st century catastrophic climate change confronts humanity unless global warming is tackled at an international level. The depletion of oil and gas supplies over the next few decades will mean energy crises occurring regularly for many countries unless action is taken to promote energy security internationally.

The rapid rise of non-Western powers is increasing pressure for the reorganisation of international institutions to reflect the influence of actors such as China, India, and Russia, and to accommodate their interests and values. This will pose a challenge to the US and the EU, as the commitment of some of these powers to democracy, international law and human rights is questionable at best.

The current crisis in the international financial system will mean that the emerging major powers will have to agree a new model of global financial regulation. The world trade system will have to be reformed to properly respond to the legitimate and growing demands of the developing world.

The resolution of long-standing regional conflicts such as the one between Israel and Palestine, will require the involvement of major global powers. The rise of Islamic fundamentalism and the international terrorism linked to it will have to be collectively addressed. While these international issues are traditionally the concerns of the political classes, EU citizens must also recognise their importance. They clearly expect the EU to play a constructive and effective role on the international stage.

However, they must empower it to be able to do so. Speaking recently in Dublin, UK foreign secretary David Miliband said we will soon replace the G8 with the G2 as China and the US “carve the world up between them”. Timothy Garton Ash, historian and Guardian newspaper columnist, also recently spoke in Dublin. He said: “Unless we Europeans wake up to the world we’re in, which we show few signs of doing, our influence will continue to dwindle in the years to come.”

The reality is that at present the international identity of the EU is weak and fractured. Member state governments often promote different priorities in international forums, and speak in “different voices” on the same issues depending on whether they are in Brussels or their national capitals. The presidency of the EU also rotates every six months, which can result in a high level of inconsistency in terms of political leadership and direction.

How does the Lisbon Treaty improve this situation? In my opinion, one of the strengths of the Lisbon Treaty is that it sets out clearly the values on which the EU is founded, which will inform its relations with the rest of the world. These include human dignity, liberty, democracy, equality, the rule of law and respect for human rights including the rights of persons belonging to minorities.

Lisbon also contains institutional changes that will give greater focus and unity to the external representation and identity of the Union.

The treaty establishes a more permanent (five-yearly) president of the European Council. The presidency of other Council of Minister formations will rotate, with three member states sharing the presidency for an 18-month period.

Lisbon creates a new post, the High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy. This new role amalgamates the role of the several commissioners currently responsible for aspects of external policy.

A new European External Action Service (an EU diplomatic corps) is established under Lisbon to support the High Representative’s work. Lisbon proposes little change however, in decision-making in the field of foreign and security policy. Unanimity (ie use of the national veto) rather than majority voting remains the general rule in the EU’s Common Foreign and Security Policy.

My support for the Lisbon Treaty does not mean I will stop pushing for the continued reform of the Union in crucially important areas. It is possible to support Lisbon while acknowledging that very real public concerns remain about the transparency and fairness of the EU’s international trade policy.

It is possible to support Lisbon while being critical of the lack of adequate parliamentary oversight of the EU’s expanding security and defence missions. It is possible to support the treaty while recognising that it only partially addresses the long-standing democratic deficit of the EU.

My support for the Lisbon Treaty is born out of a recognition that unless we as European citizens empower the Union to represent us internationally, to act as a broadly progressive force at a global level, we stand little chance of being able to positively influence and shape the rapidly changing world around us, or to tackle the very serious global challenges that confront us.

Senator Déirdre de Búrca is the Green Party’s spokeswoman on European affairs. The party will hold a convention on Saturday to decide its stance on the second Lisbon referendum

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