Tuesday 3 November 2009

Lisbon Treaty Ratified: only months of speculation left!

In the course of one day, the Lisbon Treaty has had the challenges against it rejected by the Czech Constitutional Court, and Klaus has finally signed it into law. The Treaty has now been fully ratified in all 27 member states, and the way is clear for it to be brought into force on 1st December.

So ends almost a decade of wrangling, negotiation and debate (of varying degrees of coherence). But fear not, the endless speculation about how the constitutional structure of the EU will evolve isn't over yet - though the prospect of a referendum on the Treaty is off the table for the Conservatives, when they announce their policy tomorrow (some political improv from Cameron, perhaps?), it will almost certainly feature a commitment to tinker further with the EU constitutional system.

The question is: how practical will the Tories be when it comes to their (re)negotiation over competence? When reflecting on the Tories' record on Europe, the capacity for pragmatic engagement isn't particularly confidence-inspiring, especially given the recent news of how much influence hardline Eurosceptics (in particular "Better Off Out" supporter Daniel Hannan) will have on the political thought and direction of the ill-conceived European Conservatives and Reformists Group.

But it's not just that the Conservatives seem stuck in an ideological black hole on Europe; Tory policy making seems to have lost all sense of pragmatism when it comes to constitutional thought - and even all sense of clear thought of how principles should be carried out. This was made clear for me when Cameron spoke on constitutional reform within the UK, which was full of weak sops to parliamentarianism mixed with attacks on judical power and on the concept of entrenched human rights.

Practically speaking, there's not much the Tories can realistically ask for; it will need a lot of political goodwill to get any concessions through, since it will require treaty change, which will be subject to unanimity. Would the UK need to offer something to gain opt outs? The obvious concession would be the Rebate (which is nigh-on indefensible), but it's hard to square this with Eurosceptic thought that the UK is (1) already paying too much, and (2) the appearence that as the UK withdraws from aspects of the EU, it's harder to explain (particularly to an Eurosceptic audience) how paying more is justified. In any case, the concessions the 26 can offer is extremely limited by the nature of the Union (after all, despite the opt-out from the Charter, if legislation is drafted and passed in a way that respects the Charter, the opt-out's practical effect may be limited).

In fact, the rhetoric and practical issues involved mean that it's hard to see how the changes can be either very trival (such as the Economist's passport example) or quite fundamental (to the point of leaving the EU).

And if that doesn't keep you from going into post-Lisbon withdrawal pangs, there'll no doubt be lots of opportunity to analyse how the Lisbon reforms are playing out in practise.

Phew - see? Doesn't sound so bad now, does it?


  1. If the Tories want a blue passport, then I guess it will be fine for them to queue with the non-EU crowds in the airports ?

  2. I do wonder how much some state leaders (eg Klaus) and would-be leaders (eg Cameron) really know and understand about the EU, how it works and the role of national leaders and their governments in the EU.

    Do they rely on the same news media that keep their public so ill-informed? Are their advisers and researchers so blinkered that that they leave their (would-be) leaders equally ill-informed? Or are these men (they seem to be mainly men) pathologically /emotionally so prejudiced that they are not - in truth - fit for high office?

  3. @ valery

    We shouldn't underestimate the tories' love of the colour blue...

    @ French derek

    I don't know, but I have the uncomfortable feeling that Cameron's Tory party just follows the papers. Well, not just that they follow the papers, but that they believe everything in them too...