Accessibility links

Breaking News

After Irish 'Yes,' EU Treaty's Future Still Unclear

Former President of the EU Parliament Pat Cox (center-left) celebrates a "yes" vote in the Lisbon Treaty referendum in Dubin.
Former President of the EU Parliament Pat Cox (center-left) celebrates a "yes" vote in the Lisbon Treaty referendum in Dubin.
BRUSSELS -- In a trademark EU irony, the bloc on October 3 cleared one crisis -- after it was announced that Irish voters had approved its Lisbon Treaty by a two-to-one majority -- only to face another.

After the initial euphoria had passed, European media reverted to crisis mode on October 5. "After A Resounding Irish 'Yes,' The Lisbon Treaty Remains Under Threat," warned the influential French Catholic daily "La Croix" in a headline.

The treaty, which will clear the way for a series of reforms aimed at streamlining the functioning of the 27-member bloc, still needs to be ratified by Poland and the Czech Republic.

Final approval by Polish President Lech Kaczynski is expected within days.

But securing that of Vaclav Klaus, president of the Czech Republic, may not be as easy. Klaus, whom a headline in the German daily "Die Welt" on October 5 dubbed "A One-Man Bulwark Against Europe," is the bloc's most prominent euroskeptic and a sworn enemy of the Lisbon Treaty.

On October 3, after the Irish result became known, a resigned Klaus reflected on the hopelessness of his struggle.

"We all know that if [the Irish referendum] had finished the opposite way, there would have been a third, fourth, fifth, 59th referendum, until it would finally have finished the only right way," Klaus said.

"I think you are like me, and we feel that is wrong. So that it shouldn't be done like this in the world and in Europe."

Treaty By End Of Year

Indicating that his long fight against the Lisbon Treaty may be drawing to a close, Klaus said he would not delay his signature until the similarly euroskeptical British Conservatives can organize a referendum after their expected election victory in May 2010.

The British, Klaus said, were "too late" to do anything about the treaty.

However, Klaus also said he will not sign the treaty before the Czech Constitutional Court has ruled on a second legal challenge to it, lodged last month by 17 senators.

Fredrik Reinfeldt, the prime minister of the current holder of the EU Presidency, Sweden, said on October 3 he will spare no effort to see the Lisbon Treaty take effect before the end of the year.

"We will do our utmost to be active and push forward," Reinfeldt said.

"We have said in European Council summits that we foresee that this new constitution, this treaty, should be in place by the end of the Swedish presidency. This is of course what we're trying to achieve."

Reinfeldt and the president of the European Commission, Jose Manuel Barroso, will meet Czech Prime Minister Jan Fischer in Brussels on October 7.

An EU 'Phone Number'

At stake most immediately is whether the EU can begin filling the new senior positions created by the Lisbon Treaty already at a summit in late October, or whether it will have to wait until December.

The Lisbon Treaty provides for a new EU president, elected by the member states for a 2 1/2-year term, renewable once.

Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair is the only candidate to have openly declared interest. He is said to have the backing of both London and Paris, while Berlin remains lukewarm.

However, Blair's support for the Iraq war weighs against him -- although Barroso, too, was an ardent proponent of the war in 2003. Equally problematic for Blair, Britain remains outside the EU's common currency, the euro, as well as its border-free Schengen space.

Behind the scenes, Blair's main challengers are said to be the prime minister of Luxembourg, Jean-Claude Juncker, former Austrian Chancellor Wolfgang Schuessel, and Dutch Prime Minister Jan-Peter Balkenende.

There is some disagreement within the EU as to whether the new president should be a figurehead chairing EU meetings, or whether he -- or she -- should enjoy a broader mandate and provide other world leaders with the single "phone number" once memorably demanded by Henry Kissinger.

Under an unwritten EU rule, the president must speak both English and French.

The Lisbon Treaty will also strengthen the role of the EU foreign-policy chief. Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt is known to covet the position, but is thought to be unpalatable to France and Germany.

The well-connected French daily "Le Figaro" has illustrated this in paying Bildt a back-handed compliment, saying he has "made an effort over the past months to temper his Turcophilia and Russophobia."

Other contenders include the enlargement commissioner, Finland's Olli Rehn, and a smattering of ex-foreign ministers from across the continent.

The decision processes will be tortuously complex. All top EU appointments must reflect a delicate balance between the bloc's various regions, political ideologies, and small and large countries.

Enlargement Questions

The Lisbon Treaty will also extend joint EU powers in areas such as energy, public services, environment, space policy, and agriculture. But the treaty's political impetus will be limited, as it makes no inroads into foreign and defense policy, budgetary issues, or direct taxation. All of these areas will remain firmly within the domain of member-state sovereignty, and any EU action there requires the full consensus of its 27 member states.

The treaty will be good news for enlargement. Piotr Macej Kaczynski, an analyst with the Brussels-based Center for European Policy Studies, says the bloc is now more likely to honor the commitments it has made to the western Balkan countries.

"The Irish vote and very likely entering into force of the Lisbon Treaty will help a lot in speeding up enlargement to the western Balkans, and Iceland," Kaczynski says.

"This will probably take off and maybe even in 2011 Iceland and Croatia will join, and the rest of the Balkan countries will join within a couple of more years."

Turkey, however, is likely to remain a problem, with the governments of France and Germany continuing to rule out full membership.

Little is expected to change in the EU's Russia policy, which will remain subject to member states' veto. This, in turn, will continue to overshadow any EU action in its "eastern neighborhood."

RFE/RL has been declared an "undesirable organization" by the Russian government.

If you are in Russia or the Russia-controlled parts of Ukraine and hold a Russian passport or are a stateless person residing permanently in Russia or the Russia-controlled parts of Ukraine, please note that you could face fines or imprisonment for sharing, liking, commenting on, or saving our content, or for contacting us.

To find out more, click here.