Lisbon vote result is not hampering EU, report suggests


BELGIUM:THE DEMISE of the Lisbon Treaty would not be a catastrophe as Europe is working fairly well under the existing EU treaties, a report published yesterday suggests.

But Europeans would be better off with the treaty because it reforms how the union manages its justice and foreign policy, according to the paper from London-based think tank, the Centre for European Reform.

The paper says the EU is continuing the process of European integration and achieving results by building intergovernmental bodies at EU level such as Eurojust, the European Defence Agency, and the intelligence-gathering body, the Situation Centre.

New EU laws such as the European arrest and evidence warrants, the emissions-trading scheme and the liberalisation of energy markets, together with practical co-operation on problems such as the Iranian nuclear issue, are further proof the union is working fairly well, it argues.

But the paper's author, Charles Grant, a veteran observer of the EU, argues that most governments want to save the treaty because it would provide key reforms in the fields of justice and of foreign affairs and provide national parliaments with more say over European decision-making. "It would reform the currently dreadful arrangements for managing the EU's common foreign policy. The switch to majority voting on justice and home affairs would improve the quality of decisions in that area," it says.

The paper sets out three scenarios to save the Lisbon Treaty. Under the first scenario the Government agrees to hold a second referendum on the treaty and wins it, enabling Lisbon to enter into force. To help the Government win the vote EU leaders would scrap the planned reform of the commission so the Irish "do not lose their person in Brussels" and offer reassurances on tax, abortion and neutrality.

The second scenario envisages Taoiseach Brian Cowen telling the EU that Ireland will not hold a second referendum. The paper notes the French presidency and other governments would put Ireland under huge pressure to try to ratify the treaty but ultimately the rest of Europe would have to respect Mr Cowen's decision and "bury the treaty".

But it argues EU leaders would then try and salvage the few parts of the treaty that can be implemented without ratification, such as removing the national veto over decision-making in the justice field and setting up an external action service to represent the union abroad.

Key institutional reforms contained in Lisbon that would require ratification, such as the introduction of the double majority voting system (used at the Council of Ministers to make decisions), could be introduced via the accession treaty that is required to enable Croatia to join the EU. It could also be used to introduce the new, more powerful post of high representative for foreign affairs foreseen in Lisbon, although the paper notes using an accession treaty to introduce the reforms would be "politically controversial".

The third scenario, which the paper labels "the most poisonous", envisages the Government losing a second referendum on Lisbon. Many EU politicians would call for Ireland to accept a semi-detached status. But, the paper says, several countries - Britain, some Nordic, Baltic and central European states - would block any attempt to push out Ireland. They would be right to defend Ireland's EU membership, the paper argues.

"The EU is a community built on law, and the rules state that one country, however annoying it may be, can block any new treaty," according to the think tank. The paper concludes that the option of creating a two-speed Europe is probably incompatible with the EU's legal order and in any case Ireland is in the euro. So even if Ireland lost a third referendum the most likely option is that EU leaders would try to salvage elements of the treaty by introducing them when Croatia joins.