After the Irish ‘No’: proceed with optimism

Romania
European Institute of Romania
 
The first and most obvious characteristic of the Romanian official position regarding the future of the European Union after the Irish ‘No’ is that of a moderate optimism. We are dealing with a type of ‘wishful thinking’ rather than a planned and calculated official view on what the future of Europe will look like after the Irish referendum deadlock.
 
It is obvious, when we look at the declarations of the Romanian officials in the months after the Irish ‘No’, that the key theme was the downplaying of this result: it is not a defeat but a mere setback; we are confronted with some sort of a road incident, an unpleasant one indeed, but it can be solved and there is no need to change the destination. Thus, the European Union has a future and this future cannot be conceived by the Romanian officials outside the Treaty of Lisbon.
 
Thus, on the 22 July 2008, during a meeting with his Austrian counterpart, the then Romanian Foreign Minister (and former Romanian permanent representative to the EU), Lazăr Comănescu, emphasised the desire to proceed with further ratifications of the Treaty of Lisbon as everything will be solved as the time passes by: “In this context, we have discussed regarding the evolutions concerning the Treaty of Lisbon and both sides agreed that we should proceed with all the efforts, so that the continuity of the ratification process of this treaty be assured, to come into force as soon as possible. Obviously, taking into consideration the realities, as we very well know what the result of the Ireland referendum was, and that our Irish friends themselves need to identify and advance the most adequate ways to solve this problem. I believe there are reasons for optimism, even if we look only at the past evolutions of the European Union. This is not the first time the European Union was confronted with situations of this type, but, every time, the European Union had proved its ability to keep walking.”[1]
 
The same idea, namely that of a European Union modelled on the basis of the Treaty of Lisbon, was stated by the former Romanian Prime Minister, Călin Popescu-Tăriceanu. For him, the only way forward was through the French Presidency’s efforts to support the ratification of the Treaty of Lisbon: “We support the efforts of the French Presidency of the European Union in order to find a solution to get out of the current deadlock. Europe should prove to its citizens that the Union is a source of certitudes and not one of dilemmas.”[2]
 
He seemed to see the European Union simply as an instrument whose role is to help Romania’s development: “For us, the status of member states is not a purpose in itself, but an instrument to serve the fundamental interests of the Romanian society.”[3] Therefore, he and his government fully support the development of the European Union: “We need, therefore, a powerful Union in the exterior, economically competitive and politically respected, capable of manifesting itself in a context in which the economic challenges are doubled by turbulences of the international relations.”[4]
 
A similar attitude was adopted by the Romanian President, Traian Băsescu. After the European Summer Council he declared that the priority should be the ratification of the Treaty of Lisbon as its non ratification would affect the European Union enlargement and it would generate a series of problems relating to the number of the Commissioners and members of the European Parliament.[5] The issue of the Commissioners became more visible in the following months due to the perceived risk by Romania to lose ‘its’ Commissioner. This elicited a strong reaction on the part of the President: “We do not believe that Romania will be in the situation to lose a Commissioner for a very simple reason: Romania supports that, by the December European Council at the latest, solution to be adopted that does not create discussions inside the European Union before the entry into force of the Treaty of Lisbon. Therefore, our proposal is for an extension of the Treaty of Nice in all its effects, including the one that every country had a Commissioner in the European Commission”.[6] The solution to the crisis is, and should be, an Irish one. Thus, in the same press statement made after the meeting with the President of the Republic of Ireland on the 23 September 2008, he declared that “[…] Romania respects without any hesitation the decision of the Irish people as expressed in last year’s referendum. In no case, does Romania see any other solution, but to wait for a new decision of the Irish people regarding the entry into force of the Treaty of Lisbon. We reject any solution of lack of solidarity in the European Union of the 27 […].”[7] The problem of the number of Commissioners featured prominently in the presidential speech: “[…] our point of view is that the number of Commissioners cannot be reduced […].”[8]
 
If the Romanian officials had a more reserved opinion and emphasised the need to continue the ratification process, the media coverage of the Irish ‘No’ was somehow less favourable. For instance, Dan Alexe, a Romanian journalist, wrote in an article about how everyone lost due to this ‘No’. Ironically, he remarks that the first ones to lose are the Irish themselves, to whom this ‘No’ gives no chance to leave the European Union if they ever want so. If they wanted to leave the Union, the Irish had to first of all approve this document. The treaty defines a legal mechanism through which the member states can leave the EU. In the present conditions, a country does not have any formula for divorce. By rejecting the treaty, Ireland finds itself trapped in the EU as an insect in amber, also preventing the other countries to endow themselves with a simulacrum of constitution.”[9] The idea is that everyone has lost (the member states, the candidate countries, and the Union in itself) and it will take a while in order to recover; that it will be impossible without a more open communication and without a wider transparency: “The final impression is that, once more, the EU showed that it does not know how to communicate and that, even though Europe impregnates the daily life of its citizens, a majority of the population continues not to see its benefits.”[10]
 
The future of the European Union seems to get darker in the eyes of a Romanian columnist for whom “[…] the European Union starts to realise that it is becoming ungovernable.”[11] Dinu Flămând takes this is a sign that the European Union as a whole should lower its expectations and become more modest. There is, he says, a fine line that nation states are not ready to cross, a line that defines what they consider to be some inalienable attributes. Yet, this acceptance of a lower level of expectations implies some risks as the evolution of the world is not on hold and globalisation continues to work even against Europe. “Probably the European Union will have to be more modest. To accept that there is a limit beyond which the national states are no longer willing to give up their prerogatives. Just that the globalisation is already a steam-roller started on a very steep incline. And united, but also divided, Europe risks to be quickly flattened by this steam-roller. If it does not assume even a revolution of the mentalities.”[12]
 
Another point where the Romanian official position regarding the future of the European Union and the Treaty of Lisbon differed sharply from that of the civil society was that regarding the number of Commissioners. Why should we stick our ground and demand that the principle ‘one member state, one Commissioner’ be the corner stone of any future advancement? In a press article, Cristian Ghinea proposes an alternative view: “There is an alternative strategy that could bring us more real influence at the EU level.”[13] So what would that strategy be? In essence, he proposes to give up the prestige granted by having our own Commissioner and to choose the real influence. Why have a Commissioner with a merely decorative function and not have some Deputy Commissioner with real power that can bring us more power at the EU level? “Before rejecting the Treaty of Lisbon there was the idea that the countries that will lose their Commissioner to receive some functions of Deputy Commissioner at some real important portfolios. In another words, we could negotiate to give up a Commissioner for multilingualism (1 percent of the EU budget) for a deputy Commissioner at the agriculture (40 percent of the budget). We could put the condition that in the future formula the new representatives could maintain their participation in the Commissioners college, where the collective decisions are taken.”[14]
 
However, despite all these opinions, the December 2008 European Council appears to be favourable to Romania and the future of the European Union. The Romanian official lobby for maintaining the current situation of ‘one member state, one Commissioner’ was accommodated, since the European Council decided that: “On the composition of the Commission, the European Council recalls that the Treaties currently in force require that the number of Commissioners be reduced in 2009. The European Council agrees that provided the Treaty of Lisbon enters into force, a decision will be taken, in accordance with the necessary legal procedures, to the effect that the Commission shall continue to include one national of each Member State.”[15] Furthermore, it offered a series of guarantees to Ireland, if the Irish government succeeds in ratifying the Treaty of Lisbon “by the end of the term of the current Commission.”[16]
 
The decision was warmly welcomed by the Romanian officials who saw in it a success of the French Presidency and a reason of hope for the future. There is yet lack of debates in Romania regarding the future elections for the European Parliament that are to be held on the 9 June 2009. The political parties are now recovering from a very costly and long political campaign for the domestic parliamentary elections and have not yet decided what their strategy or who their candidates will be. There is also a lack of debates and official statements regarding the appointment of the High Representative.
 
As for the position of Commissioner, up to now, there is no official statement but only rumors. A possible strong candidate is the former Foreign Affairs Minister, Lazăr Comănescu, which is seen by the Romanian media as the most likely candidate and so far the strongest in terms of his political expertise: “Asked on the occasion of a press conference whether he would accept the position of Commissioner, Lazăr Comănescu avoided a direct answer and told with a smile that he could not pronounce himself on something that does not exist. “The current Commission has another year of existence. There are discussions regarding how the future Commission shall be constituted, how many members it will have, if it will be constituted based on the Treaty of Nice or not. I hope that by that time the Treaty of Lisbon will be in force”[17] the former minister declared. “Also, there has to be a clarification on how the future portfolios of the Commission will be arranged”[18], underlined the then head of the Romanian diplomacy. “ […] I am among those who, taking into account the specificity of our country, are in favor of offering Romania the portfolio of agriculture and rural development, of energy or of infrastructure. These are absolute priorities for us”[19].
 
Among the latest Romanian official remarks regarding the future of the European Union, we can cite the current governing programme for 2009-2012 of the Romanian governing coalition from December 2008, which stipulates as a Romanian priority, that “the vertical institutional development constitutes the guarantee of the stability and of the efficient functioning of the European Community; in that context, Romania supports the ratification of the Treaty of Lisbon by all the member states, until the date of the elections for the European Parliament of the year 2009”[20].




[1] See: http://www.gov.ro/intrevedere-comanescu-steinmeier-la-berlin__l1a100797.... (last access: 9 January 2009).


[2] See: http://www.gov.ro/discursul-rostit-de-primul-ministru-calin-popescu-tari... (last access: 9 January 2009).


[3] See: http://www.gov.ro/discursul-rostit-de-primul-ministru-calin-popescu-tari... (last access: 9 January 2009).


[4] Ibid.


[5] See: http://www.presidency.ro/?_RID=det&tb=date&id=9996&_PRID=search (last access: 18 January 2009).


[6] See: http://www.presidency.ro/?_RID=det&tb=date&id=10209&_PRID=search (last access: 18 January 2009).


[7] Ibid.


[8] See: http://www.presidency.ro/?_RID=det&tb=date&id=10304&_PRID=search (last access: 18 January 2009).


[9] See: http://www.romanialibera.ro/a127816/un-joc-in-care-toata-lumea-a-pierdut... (last access: 18 January 2009).


[10] Ibid.


[11] See: http://www.romanialibera.ro/a128659/un-cutit-infipt-in-spate.html (last access: 18 January 2009).


[12] Ibid.


[13] See: http://www.romanialibera.ro/a135102/ar-merita-sa-renuntam-la-comisarul-r... (last access: 18 January 2009).


[14] Ibid.


[15] Council of the European Union: Brussels European Council 11 and 12 December 2008. Presidency Conclusions, available at: http://www.consilium.europa.eu/ueDocs/cms_Data/docs/pressData/en/ec/1046... (last access: 18 January 2009).


[16] Ibid.


[17] See: http://www.cotidianul.ro/n_2008_mae_a_fost_condus_dupa_deviza_ein_mann_e... (last access: 18 January 2009).


[18] Ibid.


[19] Ibid.


[20] See chapter 26 of Romania’s government programme, December 2008, available at: http://www.gov.ro/capitolul-26-afaceri-europene__l1a2065.html (last access: 18 January 2009).