Friday, July 25, 2008

Safe European Home

This month's 'Brussel's Diary' in Prospect and some bigger picture stuff for the people who thought their microchipped aborted foetuses would be conscripted into a Franco-German army fighting for higher corporation taxes:
"In the run-up to the rejection of the Lisbon treaty in Ireland, European
leaders were fond of saying that there was no plan B in the event of a "no"
vote. That was because the treaty itself was a plan B, thrown together
after the European constitution was rejected by voters in France and the
Netherlands in 2005. After that double rebuff, European leaders spent months
sifting through the wreckage of the constitution to separate all the practical
reforms from the elements that suggested a nation-building enterprise such as a
European flag and anthem. Concrete changes were put into the dense and
unreadable 287-page Lisbon treaty. Now that this too has been rejected in a
plebiscite, the options are complicated.

Eurosceptics claim that some of the Lisbon treaty can be implemented under
existing powers. But this applies only to low-key initiatives. The important
innovations require a new treaty because they change the legal basis on which
the EU operates. For example, the creation of a new, more powerful foreign
policy chief combines the current post held by Javier Solana with that of a
European commission vice-president—a fundamental change in EU architecture.
Similarly, changes to the voting system and a decision to endow the EU with
"legal personality"—the right to sign international agreements—require treaty
change. And, as we now all know, to get a treaty change all 27 member states
have to agree.

So what now? The pressure applied by France and Germany to press on with
ratification is a transparent effort to put Ireland in a minority of one. That
would force the Irish to try to negotiate concessions and vote again. Ireland's
response has been to play for time. Even if it is willing to hold a second
referendum, it cannot say so immediately after a "no" vote. It has, however,
been careful not to rule out the possibility of a second vote, and, by October,
the Irish may be in a position to say what concessions they need in order to
stage a rerun. The very minimum solution—"explanatory declarations" spelling out
that Ireland would retain the right to neutrality, to set its tax rates and
control abortion policy—is unlikely to be enough because these in fact offer
nothing new.

Another possibility is to revoke plans to slim the size of the European
commission, so that Ireland would retain the right to send a commissioner to
Brussels. Significantly, this could be done without changing the treaty,
providing the European council decides to do so unanimously. Later this year a
division may emerge, with some, in Germany and the Benelux countries for
example, wanting to offer Ireland the minimum necessary while making it clear
that a second referendum "no" would mean some form of isolation. Others, like
Britain, really do not want to press the Irish to vote again, unless it is
pretty clear that they will say yes. London would not lose too much sleep if the
treaty died a slow death, though it knows it is not in its interest to be the
first to kill it off. It is more alarmed about the prospect of a second Irish
"no" and the threat of consigning Ireland to an outer tier of the EU. That is
because, once deployed, the threat of exclusion could be used again in the
future—maybe against London."
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