Optimism about reinforcement of democracy, transparency and efficiency

Luxembourg
Centre d’Etudes et de Recherches Européennes Robert Schuman

The Luxembourg government is satisfied with the fact that the Lisbon Treaty is a quasi ‘copy and paste’ of the essentials of the former Constitutional Treaty it strongly supported, and which the Luxembourg people voted for in the referendum of 10 July 2005. Hence the Lisbon Treaty will contribute, according to the government, to reinforcing democracy, transparency and efficiency in the functioning of EU institutions. The government regrets that certain European symbols (like the European flag) have disappeared from the new text and that certain exceptions, like the one allowing the United Kingdom to maintain certain opt-out possibilities, the non-application of the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union and the non-cooperation in the domain of politics, justice and internal affairs have made their entry in the Lisbon Treaty.[1]
 
The Luxembourg government strongly supports the application of the traditional ‘community method’ and the maintaining of the institutional equilibrium. The Luxembourg parliament may have ratified the Lisbon Treaty on 29 May 2008, but the Luxembourg government has to acknowledge the negative result of the Irish referendum on the treaty of 12 June. Anyway, the Luxembourg government is convinced that the Lisbon Treaty remains the basis for the future development of the EU in the sense that the process of ratification has to be implemented in all the member states which still have to fulfil their ratification obligations. The government is prepared to give Ireland enough time to find a solution to the problem. In a declaration in the Luxembourg parliament, Jean Asselborn, Luxembourg’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, recognised on 18 November 2008, that there were some fears among the Irish voters which may have contributed to the negative vote and “which are totally unjustified or simply false”[2]. These fears are: the fear of losing military neutrality, the sovereignty in fiscal questions, the fear of being obliged to abandon the interdiction of abortion, the fear of being incorporated in a ‘European army’, but also the concern to lose an Irish Commissioner. Asselborn pointed out that, on the other hand, recent studies and surveys have proved the consistent pro-European mood of the Irish people.

The position of the government in these matters was not criticized by the opposition parties in the Luxembourg parliament.

The upcoming European Parliament elections in June 2009
 
As the number of the Luxemburg deputies in the European Parliament (six MEP since 1989) does not differ neither from the Lisbon nor from the Nice Treaty, there is no discussion whatsoever on this point.
 
Ever since 1989 when the first direct elections of European Parliament were held, national elections have been scheduled on the same day in Luxembourg in order to save money. Traditionally, all political parties put their front runners and most popular political figures on their European list. Of course, the more popular politicians were candidates on their party’s local constituency’s lists for the national elections on the same day. The Luxembourg election system allows the voters to express their preference votes on one list or split their votes among the members of the lists of different political parties. The European elections in Luxembourg looked like a fake beauty contest, since the front runners like Jean-Claude Juncker, never thought for even one second about going to sit in the European Parliament. The elected political leaders left their newly won seats to the backbenchers or retired national politicians who took their place after the national political stars had withdrawn to become ministers. This ‘comedy’ has left many voters frustrated. Only the defeated party in the national elections would send a political star to the European Parliament when he or she lost the seat in the government since his or her party would be excluded from the ruling coalition.
 
As promised in the 2005 referendum campaign on the Treaty establishing a Constitution for Europe, the main political parties have decided to exclude double candidacies for the 2009 upcoming elections. In this way, the outcome of the European elections should be somewhat more unpredictable than in the previous elections.
 
The formation of the new Commission in autumn 2009
 
Most Luxembourg political leaders see the formation of the new Commission in autumn 2009 with mixed feelings. A strong Commission is essential in their eyes. The Luxembourg position on the European Council of December 2008 was coordinated together with its Benelux partners beforehand. Awaiting a French Presidency proposition, the three founding members of the European Community agreed upon a most sounding appeal “to maintain the equilibrium between the EU institutions”, said Asselborn.[3] Asselborn underlined, in accordance with his Benelux colleagues, that the Lisbon Treaty must not be altered: in the treaty, the “Commission was given important responsibilities”[4]. In the tradition of its founding father, Jean Monnet, Asselborn stresses that all members of the Commission have to be “independent and must defend the interests of all member states regardless of their size and importance”[5].
 
In order to “relaunch the Lisbon Process”, the French President Sarkozy offered the Irish government a Commissioner in return for a positive referendum. If the Irish referendum turns negative again, the Nice Treaty will remain in place. The Taoiseach, Brian Cowen, considers this to be a strong signal for his fellow citizens. Jean-Claude Juncker believes that the Irish fears should be taken into account by this agreement.[6]
 
The Benelux countries had doubts over this issue. Jean Asselborn repeated his and his colleague’s well-known position after the break-through brokered by the French President: The principle of having one Commissioner per member state would have consequences in the future because it would then be very complex to ensure the smooth functioning of the Commission. But anyway, even for Asselborn, “it is most important that Ireland should approve the Lisbon Treaty”.[7] Luxembourg’s Communist newspaper editorialist is ironical about the offer made: “The Irish are obliged to consider a second vote […] . An Irish Commissioner in Brussels is no great asset for the Irish people”[8]. But Asselborn insists that the Commission is composed of distinguished members whose mandate is not to represent their own countries, but the “community as a whole” and to be the “guardians of the treaties”. The principle must be given up to satisfy Ireland’s demands, but this will end up harming the medium-sized and smaller member states.[9] The bigger nations will find ways to push through their genuine national interests. Luxembourg’s European commissioner Viviane Reding has a different point of view from the official one put forward by the Luxembourg government: “I don’t agree with Jean-Claude (Juncker) for once. Every country, especially a small country like Luxembourg, should have a commissioner of its own. Larger countries do have enough means to push through their interests even without a commissioner of their own whereas small countries risk to be cut of from the background information and the decision-making process on the European level if they are excluded – even temporary – from the European commission’s college .[…] A large commission must not be ineffective one. There is enough work to be done: different commissioners may for example work together in clusters and can do a better job than they do now. […] The Commission will not be downgraded if it has one commissioner per member state.”[10] Viviane Reding, who is a candidate on the Christian democrat list for the European parliament elections in June 2009, knows that she is well in phase with a large part of the Luxembourg public opinion. ADR[11] MP Jacques-Yves Henckes expresses the same opinion in a parliamentary debate on European and international policy.[12]
 
Prime Minister Juncker can not live with a Commission reduced to a mere secretariat of the rotating presidency. In Juncker’s eyes, “downgrading the role the Commission means weakening the EU as a whole”[13].
 
The appointment of the High Representative
 
The appointment of the High Representative for the Common Foreign and Security Policy does not play any role in the Luxembourg political discussion since no Luxembourg politician is involved. Before the negative outcome of the Irish referendum, Luxembourg’s Prime Minister Jean-Claude Juncker often appeared among the happy few to be eligible for the post as President of the European Council and to be nominated after the implementation of the Lisbon Treaty. Germany and other member states looked favourably on candidates such as Jean-Claude Juncker, but more policy makers now feel that the EU-presidency demands an occupant from a much bigger member state.[14] Juncker declared on TV that he will be Luxembourg’s next Prime Minister after June 2009, if the Luxembourg voters will not send his Christian Democratic Party[15] in the opposition.[16]


 



[1] Ministère des Affaires étrangères: Rapport sur la politique européenne du gouvernement du Luxembourg, Luxembourg, 10 October 2008.


[2] Déclaration de politique européenne et étrangère présentée par M. Jean Asselborn, Vice-Prime Ministre, Ministre des Affaires étrangères et de l’Immigration, in: Chambre des Députés: Compte-rendu des séances publiques, 18 November 2008.


[3] Le Jeudi: Trois casse-tête pour les Vingt-sept, 11 December 2008.


[4] Tageblatt: Benelux –Länder besorgt über die Zukunft des Lissabon-Vertrages, 9 December 2008.


[5] Ibid.


[6] Tageblatt: Garantien für Irland, 13 December 2008.


[7] Europolitics: European Council: Irish guarantees via Croatia’s accession treaty, 15 December 2008.


[8] Zeitung vum Lëtzebuerger Vollek: EU-Kurs gegen Volkswillen, 16 December 2008.


[9] Süddeutsche Zeitung: Die irische Erpressung, 23 December 2008.


[10] Commissioner Viviane Reding in a statement made at a workshop meeting with the author and other scholars in Brussels, 3 March 2009.


[11] ADR Alternativ demokratech Reformpartei


[12] Chambre des Députés: Compte-rendu des séances publiques, 19 November 2008.


[13] Financial Times Deutschland: Juncker warnt vor Sarkozys Plänen, 15 December 2008.


[14] Financial Times: Blair appears as choice to be EU president, 12 January 2009.


[15] Chrëschtlech Sozial Vollekspartei.


[16] RTL TV Luxembourg language service: Spezial, 31 December 2008.