The future of the EU after the Irish ‘No’: many uncertainties

Centre européen de Sciences Po
Conclusions of the European Council of December 2008 on the fate of the Lisbon Treaty
Overcoming the crisis created by the Irish ‘No’ in June 2008 was one of the French Presidency’s main priorities. However, now that this presidency has come to an end, the institutional future of the European Union still remains quite unclear. The European Council that was held on 11 and 12 December in Brussels – the third and last European Council organized by the French Presidency – was supposed to be a privileged occasion for the member states to tackle different important questions, namely: Economical and Financial issues, Energy and Climate Change, Agricultural Policy, the CFSP, but above all, the fate of the Lisbon Treaty. This issue was especially important for the French Presidency, considering that getting Europe out of the crisis generated by the Irish ‘No’ had been defined has one of its major priorities. The government had announced clearly its intention to have all member states agreeing on the roadmap it was about to propose during this Council, underlining the fact that all Irish requests would be taken into account. In France, media attention was mainly focused on this issue, “the most burning issue of the French Presidency”.[1] Most observers seem to consider the outcome of this summit as a large success, given that an agreement on the Lisbon Treaty has finally been achieved. Various members of the French government even qualified this agreement as ‘historical’. According to Le Monde, the outcome of this Council was a main political victory for the French Presidency.[2] However, the non-adoption of the treaty, and the uncertainty concerning when it will finally enter into force, has complicated a number of institutional issues.
Upcoming European Parliament elections: “one should not expect a miracle”
The European Parliament elections in June 2009 are surrounded by uncertainties, given that it has not been decided whether the Nice Treaty or the Lisbon Treaty would apply. Different media emphasised the efforts made by President Nicolas Sarkozy in order to solve this problem as soon as possible, but also underlined the ‘deep confusion’ surrounding the future of the EU, and the fact that the impact of the Irish ‘No’ is all the more important in the context of the upcoming European Parliaments elections.[3] As underlined by French MEP Alain Lamassoure, group of the European People’s Party (EPP), “the MEPs need to know which Treaty will be in force for the elections, or they will remain in an untenable situation, in which both candidates and voters ignore the exact powers given to the persons elected”.[4] The also former Secretary of State for European Affairs underlined the fact that the Irish ‘No’ was nothing but a ‘misunderstanding’, advocating for enforcement of the Lisbon Treaty before these elections.[5] According to “Notre Europe’s” Steering Committee, these elections of the new Parliament in June 2009 will be an opportunity to strengthen the legitimacy of the new Commission’s leadership.[6] However, Bruno Cautrès (Sciences Po), considers that one should not expect a miracle for the next elections.[7] The last Eurobarometer shows that only 16 percent of the citizens know about them, and only 10 percent are intending to vote.[8] Others are challenging the European feature of these elections, arguing that they are nothing more than 27 national elections, with 27 different electoral laws.[9] According to Harald Greib (Newropeans), a true European democracy would only be possible if all European voters could elect their representatives in the framework of a unique European election.[10]
The formation of a new Commission: discussion on the President and the French Commissioner
Debates about the future of the EU also concern the European Commission. The agreement reached with the Irish representative has been quite well welcomed in France, which is very attached to its Commissioner: “How could we possibly imagine a Commission which would not include a French or a German Commissioner?” declared the President of the French Senate Foreign Affair’ Committee, Josselin de Rohan.[11] More generally, “Le Monde” reports that the Commission is facing insider criticism. Many consider it to be too cautious and absent, others see it as being too rigid and inflexible.[12] French daily newspaper notes, however, that the destinies of institutions are often linked to those of the people who are leading them, and stands rather critical towards the ‘opaque Barroso’.[13] For this reason, debates regarding the future President of the future Commission are crucial. Paris seems to consider that José Manuel Barroso would be the best candidate for its own succession. According to “Libération”, the Socialists will not “engage a hopeless battle” and would not put forward a candidate. This position is criticised by the Greens, as well as by the centre party “Mouvement Démocrate” (MODEM). According to green MEP Daniel Cohn-Bendit, “it is unbelievable to be doomed from the start like that”. Marielle de Sarnez (MODEM) points her critics at Barroso, who “failed and was unable to propose anything. There is a need for a President that does not behave like a Secretary for member states”.[14] As for the future French Commissioner, Jacques Barrot declared that he would be interested in enrolling for a second term. However, the name of Michel Barnier, former Commissioner, is now on many lips.[15]
Critics regarding the appointment of the High Representative
In comparison with all these crisis and challenges for the French Presidency, debates on the High Representative have been a lot more discreet. Alain Lamassoure, French Member of the European Parliament and former State Secretary for European Affairs, criticized the mode of designation of this High representative, “left to secret negotiations between Heads of State and Government”.[16] He advocated for a more transparent mode of designation, standing in favour of a designation after the Parliamentary elections, in June 2009. Different members of the government – such as Bruno le Maire, the new State Secretary for European Affairs – are highlighting the need of a powerful high representative: “There is need for a powerful Commission, a powerful Parliament, and a powerful High Representative. It is when all the institutions are powerful that the EU is influential itself”.[17] As underlined by different media, the main problem lies in the fact that its nomination process and exact competences remain unclear.

[1] Le Monde, 12 December 2008.

[2] Ibid.

[3] La Tribune, 30 September 2008.

[4] Euractiv, 30 September 2008, available at: (last access: 26 February 2009).

[5] Ibid.

[6] Notre Europe, “In the face of crisis, there is a need for Europe”, Declaration of Notre Europe's Steering Committee, 7 November 2008.

[7] Interview,, 17 December 2008, available at: (last access: 26 February 2009).

[8] Euractiv, 17 December 2008.

[9] Newropeans, 11 January 2009.

[10] Ibid.

[11] Compte-rendu des débats au Sénat, 09 December 2008, available at: (last access: 26 February 2009).

[12] Le Monde, 21 November 2008.

[13] Ibid.

[14] Libération, 21 November 2008.

[15] Libération, 11 December 2008.

[16] Interview, Le Cercle des Européens, 6 June 2008, available at: (last access: 26 February 2009).

[17] Le Maire B., Enseignements de la présidence Française, available at: (last access: 26 February 2009).