Lisbon Treaty: Ratification expected before July

The government will make the proposal on the Lisbon Treaty in March 2008 and thus it will most likely be discussed in the Parliament during the same month.[1] The Finnish government accepted the Treaty establishing a Constitution for Europe (TCE) on 5th of December, 2006[2] which was preceded by a lengthy and in-depth discussion during which the security guarantees were among the main topics. For the reason that the discussion around TCE was so comprehensive, the discussion on Lisbon Treaty is expected to be short and the ratification process is expected to end before July. However, since this discussion, the government has changed in March 2007 and therefore there is some debate to be expected. The ultimate goal, alongside with the EU, is to ratify the Treaty during this year. One also has to bear in mind that the proposal has to be written in two official languages which takes longer time. It has already been decided that there will not be a referendum on the issue.[3] Communication with citizens is being coordinated by the Europe Information offices of the Ministry for Foreign Affairs.[4] They are planning to publish a leaflet and hold seminars on the subject in various cities in Finland.
Regarding the general debate, security guarantees took much space in media. The opposition leader, Mr. Eero Heinäluoma (SDP), has emphasized the role of security guarantees in the Lisbon Treaty. According to Mr. Heinäluoma, the formulation of the Lisbon Treaty is stricter than the NATO Article 5, because within NATO the country can decide itself which kind of assistance it gives, whereas according to the Lisbon Treaty, the states are bound to give all the assistance available in case of another EU country is being attacked.[5] Another national feature, related to this debate, was the negotiations regarding the Finnish national agricultural subsidies and Article 141. This debate was at its peak point in the fall and the government was being blamed by the public and the media for losing this important battle. In the end, the main opposition party (SDP) and the nationalist True Finns party claimed that these negotiations should be linked with the ratification process of the EU Reform Treaty (later the Lisbon Treaty).[6] However, this idea was silenced fast by the government.
According to Eurobarometer, 60% of the Finnish people feel optimistic about the future of the EU, compared to 66% of EU-27. People living in cities, students, managers and those of 25-39 years of age are among those who are most optimistic about the future of the EU.[7]
One of the most prominent academic EU experts in Finland, Professor Esko Antola, predicted that it is most likely that in 2012 there will be the next Intergovernmental Conference and thus the major institutional changes that are coming into effect in 2017, would not have time to come into operation. However, now the Treaty includes a possibility of reforming itself without an Intergovernmental Conference.[8]
Committee of the wise: Vice-chairman a prominent Finn
The official government point of view on the Committee of the wise is that it is a positive idea bearing in mind that it aims to improve the competitiveness of the EU in the future and it does not aim to change the institutional structure of the EU.[9] Regarding the composition of the group, its vice-chairman being a prominent Finn, Mr. Jorma Ollila (a former CEO of the Nokia Corporation and Non-Executive Chairman of Royal Dutch Shell), no further discussion on the composition of the group has been has taken place.[10] Yet, Suomen Kuvalehti noticed that the chairman, Mr Felipe González, was “An opponent of Turkey’s membership” and thus a disappointment for Turkey.[11] This article shows that Finnish discussion on the future of the Union is among other things concentrating on Turkey’s possible membership. This might be due to the fact that Finland has the enlargement portfolio of the Commission. After these above-mentioned news in mid-December, there have not been any major news in the media about the Committee.
Regarding the expectations on this Committee, Prime Minister Matti Vanhanen had three expectations as to what the group should talk about: the EU’s competitiveness and how to achieve the goals set down at the Lisbon Treaty; the Union’s influence in the field of climate change, environment and energy as well as internal market issues, immigration and the fight against terrorism; and finally, the ways in which to increase the EU’s importance in international politics.[12] Minister Astrid Thors stated that the group should also discuss basic topics such as ”What is Europe and what are its borders”.[13] The chairman of the Grand Committee of the Parliament Erkki Tuomioja (SDP) stated that he does not believe the group will achieve much and that it is useless, but if it makes things easier with France, then it does not have a negative impact on anything either.[14]

[1] Personal interview with Jukka Salovaara, Committee clerk for the Foreign Affairs Committee, 17.1.2008.

[2] Minutes of the Plenary Session of the Finnish Parliament, PTK 127/2006, 5.12.2006.

[3] Personal interview with Jukka Salovaara, Committee clerk for the Foreign Affairs Committee, 17.1.2008.

[4] Europe Information, available at: contentlan=2&culture=en-US.

[5] Helsingin Sanomat, Article, 17.12.2007.

[6] Aho, Esko, Interviewed on Finnish National Broadcasting Cooperation (YLE Aamu TV), 18.10.2008 at 7:18.

[7] Standard Eurobarometer 68, available at: .

[8] Seminar: The Aftermath of the European Council, 17.12.2007, available at: .

[9] Personal interview with Jukka Salovaara, Committee clerk for the Foreign Affairs Committee, 17.1.2008.

[10] Helsingin Sanomat, Editorial and article on p. B2, 15.12.2008.

[11] Suomen Kuvalehti, Article, p. 9, 21.12.2007.

[12] Prime Minister Matti Vanhanen, Speech, 25.9.2007, available at: .

[13] Seminar: The Aftermath of the European Council, 17.12.2007, available at: .

[14] Seminar: The Aftermath of the European Council, 17.12.2007, available at: .