From Interstate - Journal of International Affairs VOL. 2009/2010 NO. 1
The Lisbon Treaty: Am I A Real Boy Now?
“But you can’t grow,” answered the Fairy. “Why not?”
The European Union has always been a unique phenomenon. For half a century this experiment of international co-operation “attempts to deal with the fact that politics is local and economics global”1 and walks the thin line between national and supranational interests. The Lisbon Treaty is supposed to help reform this unusual institution, so as to utilise its full potential and take it to the next level.
The Lisbon Treaty operates under the presumption that the EU is an incomplete individual, seeking to remedy the defects and omissions in its body. This organisation has taken on a quest for self-improvement similar to that of Pinocchio, the wooden marionette whose only wish is to become a real boy, in that it demonstrates a desire to change and evolve. The EU has already acquired personal will and now it seeks integrity as a whole individual. The Lisbon Treaty makes a bold claim towards this final goal by not only preserving the soul of the Union, but also striving to turn democracy, transparency and efficiency into concepts of flesh and blood, part and parcel of a functioning organism. This piece explores the Lisbon Treaty as a highly controversial attempt towards making the EU a structural entity capable of dealing with the challenges that lie ahead.
The Lisbon Treaty promises to ensure a more democratic and transparent decision-making process at an internal level. The new voting procedure, the enhanced role of the Parliament, the further reaching influence of the national governments and the direct link between the citizens and the Commission are all said to be the instruments of this positive change. Clearly, these reforms are aimed at doing away with the inherent bureaucratic clumsiness of the system. One of the main provisions of the Lisbon Treaty introduces a new voting system. Qualified majority voting will now have a broadened scope of influence, covering areas such as climate change, security and humanitarian aid. The innovative element here is the fact that decisions in the Council of Ministers will need the support of 55% of Member States (currently 15 out of 27 EU countries) representing a minimum of 65% of the EU’s population. Theoretically the only impediment towards a decision being adopted would be a blocking majority of four member states. The new system is expected to take effect in 2014.2
The Lisbon Treaty guarantees a new role for the Parliament which will share the same level of power with the Council in terms of the co-decision procedure. Its authority will be reinforced in the sphere of EU legislation, EU budget and international agreements.3 As to new areas of influence, the Parliament will have a say in farm subsidies, fisheries, asylum and immigration policies.4
National parliaments are for the first time fully recognised as part of the democratic fabric of the European Union. Their primary task is to facilitate the implementation of the principle of subsidiarity, a tenet ensuring that “decisions are taken as closely as possible to the citizen and that constant checks are made as to whether action at Community level is justified in the light of the possibilities available at national, regional or local level.”5 National parliaments will have a greater control over the contents of draft proposals, which is expected to improve the interaction with other EU institutions and promote a greater level of democracy.6
However, the genuinely noble ambition for self-improvement may encounter unpredicted hurdles. The Lisbon Treaty makes a heroic attempt to deal with some of the most obvious flaws in the current EU situation and to pull the organisation together once and for all. Sadly, it fails to foresee that the interaction between the new voting system and the enhanced role of the Parliament may have a surprising outcome. It has been argued that the Parliament failed to perform its main function – to guarantee the connection with the voters. The problem is that the level of awareness of the Parliament activities and significance has fallen drastically, which is mirrored by a small turnout in European elections. Though the Parliament is endowed with great decision-making power by the small states, it still lacks the necessary level of authority to induce them to comply with its orders.7 This analysis exposes one point of clash between the “good intentions” of the officials that drafted the Treaty and the practical application of their design.
The Treaty is supposed to help maintain a more coherent image and clear voice of the EU on the international stage. The new positions High Representative for the Union in Foreign Affairs and Security Policy and Vice-President of the Commission will constitute the representative figures that will be in charge of utilizing the diplomatic potential and economic resources the EU has in stock in order to achieve this new goal.8
“The introduction of the two new positions of a High Representative and a President of the EU are expected to promote institutional stability. The Lisbon Treaty is a bit hazy about what the president is to do, beyond organising summit meetings of the European Council and representing the EU in meetings with world leaders. One of his unexplored functions, suggests the Brussels-based ambassador, is to act as gatekeeper for countries unhappy with a decision made under majority rules, who wish to kick the dossier up to the more consensual European Council. In other words, the president, who for the first time will be a permanent presence in Brussels, may become a standing dispenser of national vetoes. Or then again, he may not.”9
All these ambitious undertakings mirror the admirable struggle of Eurocrats to maintain stability and internal harmony within the complex interconnections between the main organs. However, political minds cannot but experience a considerable degree of skepticism towards the actual benefits flowing from the Treaty: “Lisbon is not just a bad treaty because it facilitates centralization and the prospective militarization of Europe. It also erodes the core principle of subsidiary, and is baroque, incomprehensible and does nothing to make Europe itself more legible to its citizens.”10
It should be noted that it is no longer a matter of ratification, but of distrust towards the assumption that this step will be sufficient to bring the long-awaited balance. Currently, the question at hand is whether the Lisbon Treaty will be the pathway towards an evolution in the Union leading to the fulfillment of the promise originally invested in its creation – a haven of democracy and unity. Only time will tell if the Treaty has equipped the Union to deal with the challenges of the future. “Critics say the Lisbon Treaty will already be out of date when it comes into force. A new global economic order has emerged in the eight years it took Europe to ratify it. The G-20 has replaced the G-8 as the global forum of leading economic powers and the EU has lost some of its global clout. While the Lisbon Treaty will improve the EU’s outward representation, critics say the bloc isn’t good enough at defending its economic interests against those of the US and China. Most EU states continue to behave like competitors, which leads to internal European battles for prestige within the G-20.”11
The Lisbon Treaty may or may not turn out to be the miracle that will transform the European Union with the swish of a wand. But real life rarely turn out to be the exact duplicate of a fairy tale. In the end it is the desire to become a better version of yourself that is the inducement of progress and this ought to count for something. Unfortunately, it is doubtful that after adopting the Lisbon Treaty the EU will be able to look back like Pinocchio, seeing his former wooden body lying in the corner, and sigh “How ridiculous I was as a Marionette! And how happy I am, now that I have become a real boy!”12