Setback before the French Presidency

The question of ratification of the Lisbon Treaty is particularly important in France since the French President Nicolas Sarkozy is viewed as the main promoter of this treaty. Its adoption has always been considered as a major political goal and after the Irish ‘No’ vote; the French leaders had no choice but to add the ratification issue onto the agenda of the forthcoming French EU-Presidency.
Overcoming the ‘incident’
As expected, Nicolas Sarkozy immediately reacted to the Irish ‘No’ to the Lisbon Treaty, by trying to minimise its impact. First, he tried to make Peter Mandelson, European Commissioner for External Trade, responsible for this failure. According to the French President, the way Peter Mandelson negotiated an agreement with the WTO pointlessly worried Irish farmers.[1] Then, he qualified this result as an ‘incident’, arguing that the other European member states had to go on with their respective ratification process, in order to prevent this Irish incident from turning into a major crisis. For many observers (and especially for the large coalition against the treaty, composed of left-wing parties – LCR[2], LO[3], PC[4] – and nationalist movements – MPF[5], FN[6]) this reaction is more proof of the elite’s unwillingness to listen to the people’s opinion. They underlined the fact that French and Dutch people had rejected the Constitutional Treaty, leading to the design of a very similar one. Now that another country has rejected the new treaty, governments are still trying to push it through by any means, symbolising the Union’s lack of democracy.[7]
The political class is divided about what to do next. As mentioned before, Nicolas Sarkozy and most right wing politicians advocate for the pursuit of the ratification process, which could be followed by special negotiations with Ireland. As underlined by the State Secretary for European Affairs, Jean-Pierre Jouyet, special conditions for this country could be found, even though the President stands strongly against a ‘two-speed’ Europe.[8] In his latest speech before the European Parliament, in Strasbourg (July 10th 2008), Nicolas Sarkozy said that he wanted to propose a solution before the end of the French Presidency, in October or December, stressing that there is no alternative to the Lisbon Treaty. For François Hollande (Socialist Party), a solution cannot be found without rethinking EU policies. He considers that Europe is not being criticised in France because of its main project, but because it does not meet citizens’ expectations. Instead of trying to change the treaty once again, the French Presidency should therefore focus on promoting new European policies, corresponding to citizens’ preoccupations.[9]
French public opinion is also divided about the results of this Irish referendum and the next steps to be taken. In an opinion poll commissioned by “Le Figaro” from “OpinionWay”, 37 percent are satisfied with the Irish vote, whereas 33 percent are unsatisfied and 30 percent indifferent. According to another recent poll, 44 percent of French citizens think that Irish people will have to vote again on a revised project that would correspond to their wishes. 26 percent think that the ratification process should continue without Ireland, and only 24 percent think that the treaty should be definitely abandoned. The main conclusion of this poll is that Ireland alone cannot block the EU.[10]
Short and long term implications. Beyond the institutional issues, rethinking the political processes
The Irish ‘No’ could lead the EU into a new crisis and open another period of uncertainty. There is no doubt that this will bring negative consequences, as underlined by the French MEP (and one of the advisors to Nicolas Sarkozy on European issues) Alain Lamassoure; without the Lisbon Treaty ratification, “not only will the EU unable to catch up the decade lost in reaching its objectives, but it will also lose ten years more”[11]
One of the main short-term issues concerning the organisation of the next European parliamentary elections that are meant to take place in 2009 is how to organise elections without knowing if the numbers of MEPs should be 751 (Lisbon Treaty) or 732 (Nice Treaty).[12] Another short-term institutional question deals with the size of the next college of commissioners. The Lisbon Treaty provided for a college of 18 commissioners in 2014. As noted in “Libération”, since the Lisbon Treaty cannot enter into force, the European Commission reform will be based on the Treaty of Nice, which provides for a reduction of the European Commission’s size in 2009 but does not fix any specified number of commissioners.[13]
Hubert Védrine, the former Minister for Foreign Affairs, assumes conversely that the EU now needs to act and get out of the institutional obsession.[14] It must express a clear common will on certain policy priorities: energy, environment, strategy towards emerging countries, etc. With a slightly different approach, EU expert Renaud Dehousse, professor at Sciences Po, argues that the “first emergency is not to move too fast”, and to continue with the ratification process and think about the idea of adopting these reforms piece by piece.[15]
In the long run, it could initially have consequences for the enlargement process as well. As underlined by Nicolas Sarkozy, “to be able to open to the Balkans, to Croatia, we need the Lisbon Treaty. If we want the enlargement, and we want the enlargement, we need new institutions”, he declared, being totally opposed to further enlargement without a new treaty.[16] More precisely, the failure of the Lisbon Treaty reopens the debate on how to facilitate the deepening and the widening of the European Union. Secondly, as the former President of the European Commission, Jacques Delors, has recently emphasised, the Irish ‘No’ vote raises a fundamental question left unanswered thus far: can a single state, whatever its size, oppose the deepening of co-operation?[17] Finding an appropriate answer to this question appears to be crucial for Europe’s future.

[1] Le Nouvel Observateur: Traité de Lisbonne: Sarkozy accuse un commissaire européen, 23/06/2008.

[2] Ligue communiste révolutionnaire.

[3] Lutte Ouvrière.

[4] Parti communiste Français

[5] Mouvement pour la France.

[6] Front national.

[7] See: (last access: 29/08/2008).

[8] Interview to the newspaper 20 Minutes, available under: (last access: 29/08/2008).

[9] Le Figaro: Irlande: les socialistes évitent de polémiquer entre eux, 15/06/2008.

[10] “Vivavoice” for Libération, 25/06/2008.

[11] La Tribune: La France prend en main l’avenir du Traité de Lisbonne, 25/06/2008.

[12] Le Monde: Incertitude sur les prochaines élections européennes, 21/06/2008.

[13] Libération, 19/07/2008.

[14] Hubert Védrine: L’Europe après le non irlandais, 20/06/2008.

[15] Renaud Dehousse, Communication to a seminar organised by IFRI, 09/07/2008.

[16] Le Monde: Sarkozy exclut tout élargissement de l’UE sans traité de Lisbonne, 16.06.2008.

[17] Jacques Delors: Rebondir, Le Nouvel Observateur, 19/06/2008.