The truth about the EU and Ireland after Lisbon

Vincent Browne visited Brussels over the weekend of 11 July and spoke to several EU officials. On the basis of those off-the-record conversations, he gives the following insight into the Brussels response to the Irish rejection of the Lisbon Treaty.


On the suggestion that Ireland could be expelled from the EU, as a consequence of the rejection of the Lisbon Treaty,  that other Member States could go ahead without Ireland, and that a two-speed Europe could be created, leaving Ireland behind, the following was the empathic response:

“This is legally false. The Lisbon Treaty needs to be ratified by all Member States and all Member States are bound by the existing EU Treaties.  There is no legal possibility to expel Ireland from the EU nor is it possible for 25 or 26 Member States to go ahead and ratify the Lisbon Treaty without Ireland. This is legally impossible. Neither is it possible for the EU to go ahead and create a two speed Europe leaving Ireland behind against its will. This too is legally impossible.

“The idea of their being a core Europe is entirely implausible. All the institutions would have to be duplicated. There'd have to be another European Parliament, another European Court of Justice, another European Council, another European Commission and, of course, the existing institutions would continue in being. It's theoretically possible that this could happen but realistically it's not on.”

On the question of the Commission, under the current Treaties (especially the Treaty of Nice) there must be a reduction in the number of Commissioners below the number of Member States and this has got to happen, unless the Lisbon Treaty is to be ratified by all Member States. And this reduction has to be agreed unanimously before the new Commission comes into power on the 1 November 2009. This could be done without a new Treaty or without ratification of the Lisbon Treaty provided the Council, acting unanimously, so decided.

The Lisbon Treaty envisaged the number of Commissioners being reduced to 18 but it allowed a discretion to the European Council to decide otherwise and it could decide to retain a Commissioner for all Member States.

On the question of the Charter for Fundamental Rights, this codifies general principles of European Law, it doesn't create any new law but the codification gives coherence and a prominence to that which isn't there at present. There may be some indirect affects from the Charter and it may well prompt more litigation and therefore more elaboration by the European Court of Justice of the meaning of fundamental rights. But, the Charter is relevant only with regard to the implementation of EU Law and has no relevance at all in the area reserved for the autonomous Member States.

On the question of the EU institutions working adequately without the reforms envisaged by the Lisbon Treaty, it is true that the Commission seems to have worked okay over the last four years but there was a widespread feeling the Council has not worked and there has been a lot of difficulty in a number of areas as far as the Council is concerned. Things have been held up because of the presence of vetoes and the threats of vetoes.

There has been another problem with the council and it is that the big states get together with the Commission and come up with a proposal and then present the rest of the Council with a fait accompli and they have either to accept or reject it and in many instances the smaller states have been bullied into going along with what is proposed. Whereas, a Qualified Majority Voting (QMV) procedure would have been preferable.

Contrary to what I argued in the last issue of Village, there was a view that the Lisbon Treaty did make a difference to the competence of the EU on climate change and energy because it would have removed obstacles to reaching agreement on these issues in the Council of Ministers.

In general there is a feeling of impatience. There was an appreciation that the decision-making mechanisms of the EU needed to be changed as the EU expanded. The Nice Treaty was to deal with this, but that proved a disappointment (to the reformers). The EU Constitution addressed the issue but that was defeated. The Lisbon Treaty was to deal with reform at last and there is annoyance that this now seems to be frustrated.

The EU needs more streamlined and coherent direction and, it was argued, Lisbon was supposed to provide that through the creation of the two new roles: the President of the Council and the High Representative for Foreign and Security.

An on-going debate within the EU has to do with how large it can become. Croatia is on the verge of accession, to be followed quickly by Macedonia. Serbia's chances of becoming a member have improved with the capture of Radovan Karadzic.

Here is then the issue of Turkey's accession, which the Commission favours but France and Germany are seeking reasons to prevent. Then there is the issue of Ukraine, with a population of 47 million. Poland and the Baltic States are very much in favour. If Ukraine, why not Belarus (10 million) and the south Caucasus, Armenia (3 million), Georgia (5 million) and Azerbaijan (8 million)?

Certainly even with the remaining Balkan States, it is felt institutional reform is essential and imperative if it is to be expanded further.