Pressing on with ratification: The German reaction to the Irish ‘No’

Delay of the German ratification process
 
In the aftermath of the Irish referendum, the German government declared their determination to take a leading role in rescuing the Lisbon Treaty, promising to strongly support the French government in their efforts to press on with ratification.[1] However, the government’s plans to serve as a model country were hindered by Federal President Horst Köhler’s decision to suspend the signature of the Lisbon Treaty and to wait for the verdict of the federal constitutional court (“Bundesverfassungsgericht”). The eurosceptic Left Party (“Die Linke”) and the Bavarian CSU deputy, Peter Gauweiler, had appealed to the court, claiming that the Lisbon Treaty would be inconsistent with the German constitution. The German government is, however, convinced that this is not the case and expects a positive verdict,[2] stressing that Köhler’s decision is a “normal procedure”[3] that does not imply any negative statement by Köhler himself. Correspondingly, other political actors emphasise that the decision does not confirm the position of the claimants.[4] Hence, the delay of the German ratification process is not comparable to the situation in Poland and the Czech Republic, where rather eurosceptic presidents in both countries announced not to sign the Lisbon Treaty.[5]
 
Continue the ratification process
 
The outcome of the Irish referendum has been regretted by most actors. Media representatives called the results a “Black Friday for Europe”[6]. With the exception of the Left Party, all governing and opposition parties demanded the continuation of the ratification process and came to the rapid conclusion[7], that the adoption of the treaty is “an absolute necessity”[8]. Correspondingly, the “Federation of the German Employers Association” (“BDA”), expressed its hope for a second referendum in Ireland.[9] A public-opinion poll held in the aftermath of the Irish referendum shows that 60 percent of the German population think that member states should go ahead with the treaty’s ratification, whereas only 25 percent would favour a stop of the reform process.[10]
 
While most actors agree that stopping the ratification process is not an option, the consequences drawn from the outcome of the Irish referendum differ. Angela Merkel (CDU), head of the ‘grand coalition’ with Christian Democrats (CDU/CSU) and Social Democrats (SPD), underlines that she is not supporting any further enlargement without the Lisbon Treaty.[11] Bavarian Prime Minister Günther Beckstein, member of the chancellor’s sister party CSU, questions Merkel’s position, demanding that Croatia should be allowed to join quickly.[12] The Social Democrats do not exclude accessions to the EU at all, although they share Merkel’s concerns in principle.[13] The Greens (“Bündnis 90/ Die Grünen”), on the contrary, stress the importance of continuing the accession talks with the candidate countries.[14]
 
The Irish ‘No’ has also reopened the debate about the concept of a ‘Core Europe’. In his first, never later repeated, reaction to the outcome of the Irish referendum, Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier declared that “Ireland could opt-out for a while”[15]. Merkel, however, made clear that she rejects any plans for such a ‘two-speed Europe’.[16] While this has become the official position of the governing parties, the Liberals (FDP) and some other parliamentarians propose to offer another form of co-operation between the EU and those member states that are hesitating to ratify the treaty, such as Poland.[17] Looking beyond the rhetoric, as a left-wing newspaper comments ironically, the eurozone or the Schengen agreement show that the only reason why there is no ‘two-speed Europe’ is because a ‘multi-speed Europe’ already exists.[18] In addition, academics are convinced that the importance of differentiated integration will increase even further.[19]
 
Due to the failed referendum in Ireland, the German concept of a ‘Europe of citizens’ was reanimated. There is a large consensus among German actors that the EU needs to become more oriented towards the interests of its citizens and that a debate about the future objectives of the European Union is necessary. Guido Westerwelle, chair of the Liberals, points out that, “not only parliaments but – above all – citizens need to be convinced”[20] and Member of the European Parliament Jo Leinen (SPD) emphasises, correspondingly, that the domestic political class should involve more citizens in the European debate.[21] An evaluation of the media debate brings out similar statements: the conservative “Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung” comments, for instance, that “a public debate on the whole purpose of the EU is overdue.”[22]
 
Alternative proposals
 
Though most actors, as demonstrated above, stress that the ratification process should be continued, it is worth mentioning some other proposals that have come up in the German debate. There are academics who suggest that, if the implementation of the Lisbon Treaty as a whole is not possible, one should examine how to ameliorate efficiency in decision-making and democratic legitimacy through informal reforms.[23] Press comments aim in the same direction, stating that the European Union does not necessarily need a new treaty, but above all the political will to create common policies.[24]
Some political actors, like German Interior Minister Wolfgang Schäuble (CDU) and Daniel Cohn-Bendit (Green Party), propose to elect the President of the European Council by direct universal suffrage as part of a European election.[25] German philosopher Jürgen Habermas goes even further, proposing to combine the 2009 European elections with a referendum on the Lisbon Treaty. According to Habermas, referenda are a necessary corrective in political systems where a government is not confronted with an opposition which could displace it.[26]
 
While Liberals and some ‘dissident’ parliamentarians who also clearly support the Lisbon Treaty show some sympathies for a European referendum since they want to better involve the citizens, the Left Party’s call for a referendum on the Lisbon Treaty seems to be part of their strategy to stop the treaty.[27] Thus, the generally eurosceptic Left Party appreciates the Irish decision.[28] Correspondingly, social movements like the non-governmental anti-globalisation organisation “Attac” request an immediate stop of the ratification process, declaring that the EU needs to be re-founded on a social and democratic basis.[29]
 
 



[1] Cf. Government declaration of Chancellor Angela Merkel of 19 June 2008, available at: http://www.bundesregierung.de/Content/DE/Regierungserklaerung/2008/2008-06-19-regierungserkl_C3_A4rung-merkel.html (last access: 14 July 2008).

[2] Cf. Frank-Walter Steinmeier in an interview with the newspaper “Bild”: Steinmeier: An Lissabon-Vertrag festhalten, 2 July 2008, available at: http://www.bundesregierung.de/nn_1500/Content/DE/Interview/2008/07/2008-07-02-interview-steinmeier-bild.html (last access: 14 July 2008).

[3] Cited according to: Der Tagespiegel: Köhlers “Nein” bremst EU-Express, 1 July 2008, available at: http://www.tagesspiegel.de/politik/international/Europaeische-Union-EU-Refomvertrag;art123,2563243 (last access: 15 July 2008).

[4] Cf. e.g. Rainder Steenblock (Green Party), according to FocusOnline: Köhler unterzeichnet Gesetz nicht, 30 June 2008, available at: http://www.focus.de/politik/ausland/lissabon-vertrag-koehler-unterzeichnet-gesetz-nicht_aid_315010.html (last access: 14 July 2008). See also: Süddeutsche Zeitung: Köhler stoppt EU-Vertrag 30 June 2008, available at: http://www.sueddeutsche.de/deutschland/artikel/930/183359/ (last access: 14 July 2008).

[5] Cf. Bernd Riegert: Aufstand der Präsidenten gegen EU-Reformvertrag?, Deutsche Welle, 1 July 2008, available at: http://www.dw-world.de/dw/article/0,,3453125,00.html?maca=de-kalenderblatt_topthema_deutsch-346-rdf (last access: 14 July 2008).

[6] Translated by the author. Brigitta Kols: Schwarzer Freitag für Europa, in: Frankfurter Rundschau, 13 June 2008, available at: http://www.fr-online.de/in_und_ausland/politik/meinung/kommentare/?em_cnt=1350777 (last access: 14 July 2008).

[7] Cf. e.g. Elmar Brok (CDU): Mitgliedstaaten stehen beim Reformvertrag nach dem irischen Referendum weiter in der Pflicht, press release, 18 June 2008, available at: http://www.cducsu.eu/content/view/5061/4/ (last access: 14 July 2008). See also Jo Leinen (SPD): Eine neue Denkpause ist die falsche Antwort auf das Nein, press release, 16 June 2008, available at: http://www.spd-europa.de/news-anzeige/news/jo-leinen-eine-neue-denkpause-ist-die-falsche-antwort-auf-das-nein/29/neste/4.html (last access: 14 July 2008).

[8] Hans-Gert Pöttering, quoted according to: Bulletin Quotidien Europe No. 9684, 18 June 2008, p. 6.

[9] Cf. Dieter Hundt at the press conference of the BDA: EU-Sozialpolitik zukunftsorientiert gestalten, 24 June 2008, available at: http://www.bda-online.de/www/bdaonline.nsf/id/447D5C0F0B171E23C1257472004AB29E/$file/DH_PK240608.pdf (last access: 14 July 2008).

[10] Cf. n-tv Forsa poll of the 16/17 June 2008, according to: Süddeutsche Zeitung: Deutsche stehen hinter Vertrag von Lissabon, 19 June 2008, available at: http://www.sueddeutsche.de/deutschland/artikel/886/181327 (last access: 14 July 2008).

[11] Cf. Angela Merkel at the press conference of the European Council meeting in Brussels, 20 June 2008, available at: http://www.bundesregierung.de/nn_1516/Content/DE/Mitschrift/Pressekonferenzen/2008/06/2008-06-20-merkel-steinmeier.html (last access: 14 July 2008).

[12] Cf. Günther Beckstein, according to: Bulletin Quotidien Europe, 1 July 2008, p. 1.

[13] Cf. Angelica Schwall-Düren in the parliamentary debate on Merkel’s government declaration of 19 June 2008, See: Bundestagsplenarprotokoll 16/169, pp. 17828 (B)-17829 (D), available at: http://dip21.bundestag.de/dip21/btp/16/16169.pdf (last access: 14 July 2008).

[14] Cf. Green Party: JA zu Europa, press release, 19 June 2008, available at: http://www.gruene-bundestag.de/cms/europaeische_union/dok/239/239043.html (last access: 14 July 2008).

[15] Translated by the author. Frank-Walter Steinmeier, according to: Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung: „Irland könnte eine Zeit lang aussteigen“, 14 June 2008, available at: http://www.faz.net/s/Rub99C3EECA60D84C08AD6B3E60C4EA807F/Doc~E0AC5F33FAB1141499E9799ACD10AB3CB~ATpl~Ecommon~Scontent.html (last access: 14 July 2008).

[16] Cf. Government declaration of Chancellor Angela Merkel of 19 June 2008, available at: http://www.bundesregierung.de/Content/DE/Regierungserklaerung/2008/2008-06-19-regierungserkl_C3_A4rung-merkel.html (last access: 14 July 2008).

[17] Cf. Silvana Koch-Mehrin in an interview with Deutschlandradio: FDP-Europapolitikerin plädiert für Fortsetzung des Reformprozesses, 21 June 2008, available at: http://www.dradio.de/dlf/sendungen/interview_dlf/804732 (last access: 14 July 2008). See also: Guido Westerwelle in the parliamentary debate on Merkel’s government declaration of 19 June 2008, 19 June 2008, Bundestagsplenarprotokoll 16/169, pp. 17826(B)-17828(A), available at: http://dip21.bundestag.de/dip21/btp/16/16169.pdf (last access: 14 July 2008); Daniel Cohn-Bendit (Green Party), diverging from the party line, shares the position either: cf. Daniel Cohn Bendit in interview with Der Spiegel: “Alle zwei Wochen diskreditiert irgendein Spinner die EU”, 3 July 2008, available at: http://www.spiegel.de/politik/ausland/0,1518,563726,00.html (last access: 14 July 2008).

[18] Cf. Ralph Bollmann: Kontinent der vielen Geschwindigkeiten, in: Tageszeitung, 20 June 2008, available at: http://www.taz.de/1/debatte/kommentar/artikel/1/kontinent-der-vielen-geschwindigkeiten (last access: 14 July 2008).

[19] Cf. Sarah Seeger: Ursachen und Konsequenzen des irischen Neins zum Vertrag von Lissabon, in: Cap-Positionen, 14 June 2008, available at: http://www.cap-lmu.de/aktuell/positionen/2008/irland.php (last access: 14 July 2008).

[20] Translated by the author. Guido Westerwelle in the parliamentary debate on Merkel’s government declaration of 19 June 2008, Bundestagsplenarprotokoll 16/169, pp. 17826(B)-17828(A), available at: http://dip21.bundestag.de/dip21/btp/16/16169.pdf (last access: 14 July 2008).

[21] Cf. Jo Leinen in an interview with Deutschlandradio: EU-Reformvertrag: SPD-Europapolitiker Leinen kritisiert Kaczynski, 1 July 2008, available at: http://www.dradio.de/dlf/sendungen/interview _dlf/809781 (last access: 14 July 2008); Jo Leinen/Jan Kreutz: Das irische ‚Nein’ zum Vertrag von Lissabon: Optionen für die Lösung der neuen Krise, in: integration 3/2008, pp. 306-311, available under: http://www.iep-berlin.de/index.php?id=655 (last access: 22 September 2008).

[22] Translated by the author. Günther Nonnenmacher: Die Lissabon-Krise, in: Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, 1 July 2008, available at: http://www.faz.net/s/Rub7FC5BF30C45B402F96E964EF8CE790E1/Doc~E882C5B23825A4730806F9FFD1476B43D~ATpl~Ecommon~Scontent.html (last access: 14 July 2008).

[23] Cf. Andreas Maurer/Daniela Schwarzer: Der Schuss vor den Bug, SWP-Aktuell, July 2008, available at: http://www.swp-berlin.org/common/get_document.php?asset_id=5110 (last access: 14 July 2008)

[24] Cf. Bernd Riegert: Die EU kann auch ohne Lissabon-Vertrag glücklich werden, in: Deutsche Welle, 20 June 2008, available at: http://www.dw-world.de/dw/article/0,2144,3426243,00.html (last access: 20 June 2008). See also Alan Posener: Irland „Nein“ ist Chance für Europa, in: Die Welt, 14 June 2008, available at: http://www.welt.de/politik/article2104183/Irlands_Nein_ist_eine_Chance_fuer_Europa.html (last access: 14 July 2008).

[25] Cf. Bulletin Quotidien Europe No. 9684, 18 June 2008, p. 6.

[26] Cf. Jürgen Habermas: Verständnis für die Iren, in: Süddeutsche Zeitung, 24 June 2008, available at: http://www.sueddeutsche.de/ausland/artikel/655/182091 (last access: 14 July 2008). See also Jürgen Habermas: Ein Lob den Iren, in: Süddeutsche Zeitung, 16 June 2008, available at: http://www.sueddeutsche.de/ausland/artikel/310/180753 (last access: 14 July 2008).

[27] Cf. Lothar Bisky in an interview with Deutschlandfunk, 13 June 2008, available at: http://www.dradio.de/dlf/sendungen/interview_dlf/800816/ (last access: 14 July 2008).

[28] Cf. speech by Tobias Pflüger at the plenary debate of the European Parliament, 18 June 2008, according to Tobias Pflüger (Left Party): Dieser Vertrag ist tot, press release, 23 June 2008, available at: http://www.pds-europa.de/dokumente/reden/view_dok_html?zid=3474 (last access: 14 July 2008).

[29] Cf. Attac: Lissabon-Vertrag endlich zu Grabe tragen, press release, 18 June 2008, available at: http://www.attac.de/aktuell/neuigkeiten/detailansicht/datum/2008/06/18/lissabon-vertrag-endlich-zu-grabe-tragen/?cHash=efeae4736d (last access: 14 July 2008).