A Technical approach to the Lisbon Treaty

Mihai Sebe
The European Council Presidency – between ignorance and disregard…
Romania faced the entering into force of the Lisbon Treaty on 1 December 2009 amid the turmoil of a fiercely disputed presidential election campaign, a fact that somehow reduced its direct impact over the population and specialised media. The Department of European Affairs (DEA), the central coordination authority at the national level in the area of European affairs, has adopted a technical approach. Thus, Bogdan Mănoiu, head of the DEA, stated in January 2010 that the main priority was to create and ensure the efficient functioning of an “internal mechanisms” design, to facilitate the implementation of the acquis communautaire and to eliminate the “elements contrary to the European compulsory demands”.[1] Amidst the political and economic turmoil, Herman Van Rompuy’s meeting with President Traian Basescu[2] dealt with the Danube Region Strategy, the relations with the Republic of Moldova and the economic crisis: the “exit strategy” that is going to be adopted by Romania after “the conclusion of the agreement with the” International Monetary Fund at the end of 2010. Analysts generally view Herman Van Rompuy (President of the European Council) and Catherine Ashton (High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy) as weak and insignificant leaders: “The critical voices already ask the question: to which extent can two anonymous politicians be the representatives whom the EU needs, in order to play in the premier league, next to the United States and China?”[3] For some journalists, such as Nicolae Filipescu, the result of the negotiations that led to Herman Van Rompuy’s nomination can be described as a “disappointment” at least. Herman Van Rompuy is seen as a “little known and modest politician” who will not be able to impose the EU on the international scene. His weakness will make the functioning of the EU a difficult process and will incline the other world powers to initiate direct bilateral relations with the EU member states instead of speaking with the EU as a whole.[4] The Spanish Council Presidency was expected to set the precedent for further meetings. Paul Ivan, a political analyst, remains relatively optimistic with regard to the efficient functioning of the Union. In a policy memo dedicated to the analysis of the changes brought by the Lisbon Treaty, he succinctly describes the main changes emphasising the role of the Spanish Presidency: “It isn’t clear how this separation will work in practice, but it is expected that the Spanish create practical precedents for the future.”[5]
… the same for the High Representative
If Herman Van Rompuy received such negative reviews, the same thing is valid for Catherine Ashton. For authors such as Nicolae Filipescu, she is no more than a simple “public servant”. An “obscure” minister of foreign affairs, she will do little next to nothing to promote the EU interests in front of the world powers, due to her lack of international reputation.[6] Others are more indulgent and see her as the fittest for the role, since Europe wants to develop its image as the world’s greatest “soft superpower”. A technocrat, she might prove herself “less sensitive to mass-media pressure”, the main challenge for her being to show she has “substance” and not only technical abilities.
“Today, critics can be contradicted, and the mandate of Catherine Ashton can be more than a transitional episode, on the condition that the High Representative define herself more clearly as a political character, to enter in the complicated and frustrating game through which the EU vision regarding its role on the world scene is formed and reformed without cease.”[7] Romania must also support an active external policy as regards the eastern neighbours of the Union. Analysts such as Paul Ivan claimed as early as the beginning of this year that we must support the differentiation between the “European neighbours” from the east and from the south.[8]
The European External Action Service – between hope and the “brain-drain” of Romanian diplomats
If neither Van Rompuy nor Ashton received high grades from the Romanian media, what about the new European External Action Service? Here once more we must differentiate between the official authorities and the media. For Teodor Baconschi, Romanian Foreign Affairs Minister, European diplomacy is “a complement to national diplomacies.” It represents neither a threat, nor a competitor, but an efficient instrument of cooperation: “We must not see the appearance of the new European institution as a formula of replacement of the national voices in the 27 Club, but as a supplementary instrument through which the political coordination between the member states advances and some European positions, especially on major issues, can be drawn more easily.”[9] However, there is a genuine concern at the official level as regards the staff that is to be employed by the newly created European External Action Service. As the economic crisis continues and taking into consideration the budgetary restraints, there exists the fear that the best and the brightest members of the Romanian diplomatic apparatus will prefer to go to work in this new service attracted by the prospect of more generous financial allocations. As early as the beginning of the year, the Romanian Foreign Ministry drafted a list containing approximately 70-80 eligible diplomats of which approximately 30 will work in the new service.[10] An extensive lobby is also underway in order to ensure the respect of certain principles as described by Teodor Baconschi in his meetings with Catherine Ashton. In March 2010, the Romanian Foreign Ministry reiterated the necessity to respect the meritocracy principle, to maintain a geographical balance and an equal treatment of all categories of staff, and to ensure an important role for the member states in the selection process.”[11] These principles were doubled by what Teodor Baconschi called “an inventory of all the positions within the EU […] to which Romania could, reasonably, aspire to.”[12] Romanian Members of the European Parliament (MEPs), such as Adrian Severin of the Socialist group, expressed a similar attitude as regards the European diplomacy stating in various press articles that we, as Europeans, need to create an “efficient External Action Service” as the “EU needs an active foreign policy, guided by common European objectives and based on our common values.”[13]
Empowering the people – the European Citizen’s Initiative
In order to counteract the accusations of the so-called “democratic deficit”, the European Citizens’ Initiative is designed to allow, for the first time, European citizens “to directly propose initiation of some new legislative measures”. A topic of interest mainly for specialised legal sites, the main concerns regard its accessibility and democratic character: “It is important that this new characteristic of the democratic process be credible, ensure the full protection of personal character data and not allow abuse or fraud.”[14] If those considerations are to be taken seriously and accomplished, then we are about to assist, in President’s Traian Basescu view, a dramatic shift of power from the member state level to the grassroots, to the ordinary European citizen, who will be able from now on to take a more active role within the EU legislative process. “The efficient use of the new institutional framework depends both on each member state individually and on the manner in which it reports itself to the Union, and on the European citizens. They will be able to have an augmented involvement in European affairs. They will be able to use the innovations of the Lisbon Treaty, such as the European Citizens’ Initiative. We must be ready to assume as active a role as possible in the European Union including at the citizen’s level.”[15]
All those high hopes must have a solid basis; otherwise, we will face a terrible disappointment, stated the Romanian socialist MEP Victor Boştinaru somewhat dramatically. The European Citizens’ Initiative must become “an instrument of direct democracy and not a disappointment” and for that a new set of rules must be implemented. What will those new rules be? Here, Victor Boştinaru came with a concrete set of measures, designed, in his opinion, to ensure an efficient use of this new democratic tool: an “ex-ante” checking of the admissibility of the initiative; a clear and concrete definition of the areas in which the Initiative can be launched and where it cannot be used; clear and rigorous admissibility criteria; and an established impact of the initiative on the European Commission and European Parliament, including type and reaction time.[16] These detailed proposals were completed by another socialist MEP, Ioan Enciu, who recommended the necessity to consult the European Parliament before the European Commission drafts a legislative act based upon a European Citizens’ Initiative in order to “harmonise, in the incipient status, the elaboration of the European policies and to prevent the doubling, or even the repetition of the legislative initiatives.”[17]

[1] Bogdan MĂNOIU, Minister, Department for European Affairs: Speech held on 21 January 2010, available at: (last access: 17 May 2010).

[2] “Herman van Rompuy în vizită la Bucureşti”, 18 January 2010, available at: (last access: 17 May 2010). The topics of interest were rather numerous with an accent on economic issues.

[3] Evenimentul Zilei: Motorul Lisabona propulsează visele europene, 1 January 1 2010, available at: (last access: 17 May 2010).

[4] Nicolae FILIPESCU: Implementarea Tratatului de la Lisabona, Revista 22, 9 February 2010, available at: (last access: 17 May 2010).

[5] Paul IVAN, Mihai PANAITE, Ciprian CIUCU, Robert UZUNĂ: Uniunea Europeană se adaptează din mers Tratatului de la Lisabona - Priorităţile preşedinţiei spaniole şi interesele României, Policy Memo no. 6, January 2009, available at: (last access: 17 May 2010).

[6] Nicolae FILIPESCU: Implementarea Tratatului de la Lisabona, Revista 22, 9 February 2010, available at: (last access: 17 May 2010).

[7] Lucian DARDALA: Un tehnocrat discret: Catherine Ashton, Ziarul de Iasi, 22 March 2010, available at: (last access: 17 May 2010).

[8] Paul IVAN/Mihai PANAITE/Ciprian CIUCU/Robert UZUNA: Uniunea Europeană se adaptează din mers Tratatului de la Lisabona - Priorităţile preşedinţiei spaniole şi interesele României, Policy Memo no. 6, January 2009, available at: (last access: 17 May 2010).

[9] Interview with Teodor Baconschi on 9 January 2010 at the Romanian State Television, available at: (last access: 17 May 2010).

[10] Ibid.

[11] Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Press release: Întrevederile ministrului Afacerilor Externe cu Înaltul Reprezentant pentru Afaceri Externe şi Politica de Securitate şi cu comisarul european pentru extindere şi politica de vecinătate, 23 March 2010, available at: (last access: 17 May 2010).

[12] Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Interview at the Romanian National Radio on 17 February 2010, available at: (last access: 17 May 2010).

[13] Maria CORA: Parlamentul European: un rol mai puternic în definirea şi aplicarea politicii externe a UE, Curierul National, 12 March 2010, available at: (last access: 17 May 2010).

[14] Avocatnet.ro: Cetăţenii europeni vor putea avea iniţiativă legislativă, 31 March 2010, available at: (last access: 17 May 2010).

[15] President Traian Băsescu’s Speech at the reception offered on the occasion of Europe’s Day, 7 May 2010, available at: (last access: 17 May 2010).

[16] Social Democrat Party website: Boştinaru on the Citizen’s Initiative: An instrument of direct democracy and not a disappointment, 28 January 2010, available at: (last access: 17 May 2010).

[17] Ioan ENCIU: EP must be consulted by the EC with regard to the pertinence of a Citizen’s Initiative proposal, Bruxelles, 15 April 2010, available at: (last access: 17 May 2010).