Dropping the Lisbon Treaty or making efforts to save it?

The Irish ‘No’ vote in the referendum, naturally, provoked some controversy along the traditional lines. Eurosceptic analysts and parties saw in it, a vindication of their reservations and criticisms, while those favourable to deeper integration pointed to the fact that the EU remains highly popular in Ireland.
The Portuguese Prime Minister, José Sócrates, argued that the ratification process should go ahead. In this he had the support not only of his own Socialist Party[1], but also of the two main right-wing parties, PSD[2] and CDS-PP[3] respectively a member and a former member of the European People’s Party. At the same time, the Portuguese government was again concerned that Ireland should not feel pushed into a corner, and emphasised, as it did with the difficult case of Poland during the negotiations of the treaty, that in a union everyone has to move forward together. Contradictory, perhaps, political unpractical maybe, but reflecting powerful concerns: on the one hand that the EU should not again be paralysed by institutional discussions and to preserve an achievement of the Portuguese EU-Presidency; while at the same time, safeguarding the principle of the equality of member states. Still, the prevailing tone was given by the statement of the Foreign Minister Luís Amado: “Europe will be ungovernable in two or three years without the Lisbon Treaty” and therefore “everything has to be done to save the Treaty” not excluding a second referendum in Ireland after some further reassurances to the Irish. This is “not at all undemocratic” in his view, because the final say on how to sort things is given to Ireland – a crucial point.[4]
The Left Bloc and the Communists predictably have a different view, and both criticised that option as undemocratic, in line with their traditional critique of European integration as elitist and capitalistic. A Left Bloc MEP Miguel Portas declared his satisfaction with the Irish people that “expressed the will of all the people in Europe that could not vote” in rejection of these “authoritarian solutions”, and stated conclusively “The Lisbon Treaty is dead”.[5] However, he then went on, on his own initiative, to suggest that the most democratic way forward would be for the Council to give constitutional powers to the new European Parliament to be elected in 2009, so that it could make a proposal to get out of the crisis, this could mean going back to “the Constitution or the Constitutional Treaty, to revise the Lisbon Treaty, to negotiate a new Treaty among the governments, or to get out of the Union”; then the proposal approved by the European Parliament would still have to be approved by the European Council but would have been debated and legitimised by the European elections. How this would satisfy the Irish, be intrinsically more democratic than ratification in national parliaments, or work in practice given the number and diversity of MEPs involved was not made clear. Still it is an interesting idea, and a sign of some change of attitudes in these parties, at least by those most involved in European institutions.[6]
One of the most influential political analysts, and one of the few to openly advocate eurosceptic positions on the “right” – a senior figure of PSD, José Pacheco Pereira – argued in his widely read weblog that “all doors are open” after the Irish ‘No’. The problem was that these reforms basically resulted from France and Germany wishing to have more voting power. Smaller countries, like Ireland but also Portugal, had every interest in maintaining the norm of unanimity for most decisions. So he welcomed Irish courage in voting ‘No’.[7]
A contrasting view also from the ‘right’ comes from another influential commentator, currently an advisor to President of the European Commission José Manuel Barroso – João Marques de Almeida. He argues that “Brussels”, i.e. the institutions of the EU proper, cannot be blamed for the ‘No’ vote in Ireland, where, actually, the EU remains extremely popular. Moreover, the treaty is not an obscure text because of an elitist plot to deceive the people, but merely as the result of a negotiated compromise, of an effort to respect the concerns of different member states, otherwise a simple treaty could have been easily written by the European Commission. Almeida claims that national referendums on European treaties suffer from a basic flaw: many hundreds of millions of those concerned are not nationals and therefore cannot vote. Now is time for governments but also for people in member States to face their responsibilities and decide what they want. He concludes that keeping the status quo is not an option – Nice was not made to last. And warns that if the EU is not allowed to become more effective globally, the trend for bigger European states to move on with their new ‘concert of powers’, giving little say to medium and small states, will probably become overwhelming, and will be very negative for the interests of countries like Portugal, and indeed Ireland.[8]
These two views synthesise well the main themes of the ongoing debate in Portugal. Those of a more sceptical inclination will tend to emphasise how the results of the Irish referendum show that the EU has gone too far, not least too far away from the people, that all attempts to unify Europe against the will of the people have failed, and that many good ad hoc options exist.[9] Those of a more pro-European bent will tend to argue that there might be justified treaty fatigue, that Ireland is naturally free to make its choice, but so are other member states, and one more treaty is needed before Europe can focus on more important matters, or the alternative will be to move on with some kind of core Europe.[10]
The prevailing view, certainly within the dominant parties and the most influential analysts, is that the ideal situation would be for Ireland to accept a few additional guarantees, without any additional changes in the text of the Treaty that would open a Pandora’s box of endless re-negotiations of previous compromises. If this does not work then the EU would enter uncharted waters adding to the uncertainty of the current global crisis. In terms of the wider public, there is a widespread feeling of fatigue with these institutional discussions and a concern that the EU should deal with very serious economic and social challenges having a major impact on their quality of life. But it is unclear whether this will move public opinion towards favouring dropping the Lisbon Treaty or making one final effort to save it.

[1] Partido Socialisto (PS).

[2] Portido Social Democrata (PSD).

[3] Centro Democrático Social-Partido Popular (CDS-PP).

[4] Público: Portugal quer evitar um cenário de incerteza, 10.06.2008.

[5] Miguel Portas: Tratado de Lisboa Morreu, available under: http://www.esquerda.net (site of Left Bloc) (last access: 13.06.2008).

[6] Miguel Portas: Réplica a Vital Moreira, available under: http://www.miguelportas.net/blog/?p=384#more-384 (last access: 20.06.2008).

[7] José Pacheco Pereira: A Europa tem todas as saídas, available under: http://abrupto.blogspot.com/2008/06/coisas-da-sbado-europa-tem-todas-as.html (last access: 20.06.08) also available under: www.sabado.pt (last access: 20.06.2008).

[8] João Marques de Almeida: 19 ‘Sims’, Diário Económico Online, available under:
http://diarioeconomico.sapo.pt/edicion/diarioeconomico/opinion/columnistas/pt/desarrollo/1137891.html (last access: 06.07.2008).

[9] From the ‚far left’ see Baptista-Bastos: A Europa está doente, Jornal de Negócios, 27.06.2008; from the ‘right’ see José Ribeiro e Castro: A vingança dos pais-fundadores, Público, 04.07.2008.

[10] Vital Moreira: A oportunidade, Público, 17.06.2008.