14 June 2008

More Change is needed in a changed EU

Throughout the Lisbon Treaty campaign and in many of the public meetings organised by the National Forum on Europe representatives of the YES side usually failed to explain the treaty and why it was supposed to be so good for Ireland and Europe. Instead they spent a lot of time telling us how good Europe has been for Ireland - which is true and was never disputed by the NO side - and warning the people of all sorts of terrible consequences (without ever specifying them) which might befall Ireland if the treaty was rejected.

In a public debate at Liberty Hall in Dublin Fine Gael MEP Gay Mitchell even went so far to refer to the Second World War as a reason to vote YES. Maybe he had forgotten that Ireland was not a participant in that war and kept her neutrality, or perhaps he forgot that he was speaking to an audience of Irish people. Being on the continent for some time and being confronted with the many nations who were indeed involved in and damaged by the Second World War might have influenced his thinking and his views on Europe and the EU.

When the first six member states of the EU - Belgium, France, Germany, Italy, Luxembourg and the Netherlands - founded the European Economic Community (EEC) in 1957, the memories of the two World Wars that had ravaged their countries twice within thirty years were still very fresh and present. After all, it was only twelve years after central Europe had been in ruins, literally as well as politically. And it was indeed the desire for peace and peaceful co-operation that led to the formation of the EEC, often also called the Common Market. (Britain had been invited by the six founding nations to join as well, but the government in London showed no interest at the time and was more occupied with its crumbling empire and Anglo-American co-operation in the Cold War.)

But in the 51 years of its existence the structure and character of the European Union has been changed significantly. What began as a loosely organised group of six central European nations is now a very tightly regulated union of 27 countries, including some who are still recovering from their involuntary and painful membership of the Eastern bloc under the leadership of the Soviet Union. The EU now also includes two countries - Bulgaria and Romania - who were not ready when they joined . Their massive internal problems, especially the highly organised crime of their local mafia-style groups, have become problems of the whole EU. Despite heavy words from Brussels there is no change visible, and no solution in sight.

Advocates and supporters of the Lisbon Treaty have often said that the new enlarged EU needs a new structure, one that is different from the framework put in place for a union of six. I agree. This is indeed what we need. But the Lisbon Treaty is not the right answer and did not give Europe the right structures. It has been argued that now with 27 members "everything is so much more difficult". That may also be true, especially if one looks at Bulgaria and Romania.
In fact, the proverbial elephant in the room of the European Council is the rapid enlargement of the EU, which was done as if a race had to be won. But this subject seems to be still taboo.

We have admitted too many new members far too quickly, and now we are facing the mess this haste has created. Wise analysts of European politics have seen this coming and warned about it well in advance. But the political leaders of Europe would not listen. Even now they are unable to see their folly and plan further enlargements. The troublesome nations of the Balkans are now considered as potential new members, and even Turkey - an Asian country with a large Muslim population and an abysmal human rights record - is still on the list of EU membership candidates.

This senseless race for an ever larger and larger EU has to stop. 27 members are already more than the existing system can handle properly. What is needed now is a complete new beginning of discussions and consultations, with active participation of all EU citizens. Before we bring new members into the union, we have to define what kind of union, what type of structure we want for the EU. Ireland's resounding NO to the Lisbon Treaty could lead to such a constructive and enlightening process. But it can and will only happen if the political leaders accept the realities, sit down and give themselves time. And it also needs the active and creative input of the citizens of Europe.

One day after the result of the Irish referendum was announced, the shock in some European capitals is still great. While Germany's Chancellor Angela Merkel said that the Irish decision must be accepted and new ways needed to be explored, the French President Nicolas Sarkozy (above) is obviously less realistic. In a speech earlier today he insisted that "EU member states must continue ratifying the Lisbon Treaty to avoid a crisis". The flamboyant President, a friend of George W. Bush and a supporter of Thatcherite capitalism, seems to overlook that the Lisbon Treaty cannot become EU law, as it needs the ratification of all member states. Ireland has said NO, and that should be the end of that treaty, in the same way as the French and Dutch NO to the European Constitution (96% identical with the Lisbon Treaty) put an end to that. Any attempts to ignore the clear will of the Irish people, which is also reflected in the populations of many other member states who did not have the chance of a referendum, would break the EU's own rules and thus create a real crisis.

In little more than two weeks, on July 1st, France will take over the EU presidency from the current holder Slovenia. And this is the real reason for Mr. Sarkozy's heavy-handed speech. The French President has no interest in spending the six months in the EU chair with a failure. But if he keeps ignoring the facts, this is exactly what might happen.

Much will now depend on Taoiseach Brian Cowen (left) and the ministers of his cabinet. In a few days they will have to explain to their EU colleagues why they were not able to bring their nation to accept the Lisbon Treaty. If the Irish delegation will raise the questions which dominated the referendum campaign, they have a realistic chance to trigger the necessary new debate for the whole EU.
Should they fail to do that and behave more like Eurocrats than the elected representatives of the Irish nation, nothing will change and the EU will continue her journey on the wrong tracks.

It is early days yet, the shock effect is still paralysing the clear thinking capacity of many EU politicians, and since there was apparently no "Plan B", all plans have to be returned to the proverbial drawing board. But in the coming weeks and months it will become clear - in Ireland and Europe - which direction our leaders intend to chose. Thanks to the Irish people they have the immense chance to create a new and stable European structure. Should they fail to do that and continue to ignore the will of the people of Europe, the shock experienced yesterday after the referendum in Ireland will be mild compared with the anger the citizens of Britain, France, Germany, Italy and other large countries are able and likely to express.

The Emerald Islander

1 comment:

The Wild Goose said...

I am really glad you are back. I have missed your entries. I really admire your stile and your capacity to bring it to the point. It is a real gift. The European Union should be an attempt to save Europe from the American taking over and not a way of stronger americanisation. If we watch the evolution of Europe after the two World Wars we should be aware of the destruction of the real European social developement which had been the achievement of the European people fighting for their rights. I really hope the Irish leader will take this chance to make it better.

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