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The Lisbon Treaty, the Irish Referendum and Implications for the European Union: What Next? [Speech text in extenso]     Print Email
John Bruton

INTRODUCTION

I am speaking here today in a personal capacity, as a former Irish politician who was involved in the drafting of the EU Constitution, which was the precursor to the Lisbon Treaty.

EU institutions, including the European Commission, are currently reflecting on the Irish vote. Ratification of the Treaty is proceeding in all the other 26 Member States.

As will be clear in my remarks, I am able to offer no easy solution. But I believe it is really important to focus on the fact that the EU continues to function well under existing Treaties.

What was the background to the Lisbon Treaty? How did we get here?

In December 2001, in ongoing preparation for the 2004 expansion of the European Union from 15 to 25 Member States, EU leaders launched a Convention on the Future of Europe to conduct a broad consultation on the reforms needed to adapt the EU’s institutions and streamline the decision-making apparatus for a much larger membership.

The Convention, involving the main stakeholders in the debate, produced the EU draft Constitution, which was signed by EU Heads of State and Government in 2004 and had to be ratified by all the 25 then Members before it could come into force. It decided to present a consolidated draft Constitution, containing numerous practical reforms, to be ratified as a single whole. This approach had many advantages but its disadvantage was that it raised the stakes, turning many practical questions into a single, potentially existential, one.

When a majority of the voters in both France and the Netherlands voted “No” to the draft Constitution in referenda in 2005, EU leaders declared a “period of reflection”.

During that period of reflection, not many new options were publicly canvassed. In fact there was very little real reflection. Obviously a great deal of emotional and intellectual investment had gone into the compromises contained in the draft Constitution. So there was a reluctance to abandon, or even significantly to change, its content. Eventually it was decided to go ahead with most of the content of the Constitution, but to change it into amendments to the existing Treaties.

This meant converting the draft EU Constitution, which was a single readable and consolidated text, into a lengthy series of amendments to the existing Treaties, all of which remained in force. In other words, a readable document was converted into something much less readable, because the amendments could only be understood by reading the texts being amended, and that too involved a series of cross references to a series of other Treaties.

Even though the institutional change in the Lisbon Treaty would have increased transparency, the actual text by which this was to be done was far from transparent to the general reader.

This made it much harder to explain the Treaty to Irish electors. It facilitated scare-mongering by those advocating a “No” vote.

Why did Ireland have a referendum, when nobody else had one?

Ireland had to have a referendum on the Lisbon Treaty because the legal advisors to the Irish Government were of the opinion that parts of the Treaty constituted an amendment to the existing Irish Constitution in that they reduced Irish sovereignty. Only some parts of the Lisbon Treaty did so. Most of the material in it did not.

The Irish Constitution may only be amended by a referendum. Most other European countries have arrangements which allow their constitutions to be amended by extraordinary majorities in parliament. That option does not exist in the Irish Constitution, which was approved by the people in 1937 and has been in operation ever since.

Any change to the Irish Constitution to allow it to be amended without a referendum would itself have to be first approved by the Irish people in a referendum. Getting a majority for such a proposal would not be easy. Voters would not easily be persuaded to give up a right which they have enjoyed for over 60 years. The fact that several other EU Member States freely chose to have referenda on the EU draft Constitution has also legitimated referenda as an acceptable means of deciding big European questions. (France, the UK, Luxembourg, Spain and the Netherlands all had, or said they would have, referenda on the Constitution.)

Why the Lisbon Treaty is important

I was very disappointed by the decision the Irish people took not to allow the Irish Government to ratify the Lisbon Treaty, which it had previously signed on their behalf. 53.1% of the Irish people voted in the referendum that would have permitted ratification. Of those, 53.4% voted “No”, and 46.6% votes “Yes”.

I will first explain the reasons for my disappointment with this decision of the people.

Let me say that I believe that, just as it is possible for politicians to make mistakes; it is also possible for electorates to make mistakes, too. Both are human. To say that one accepts a decision that is made democratically, does not imply that one should not be willing to try to have that decision changed at a later opportunity. I have seen many election results in my career that I accepted without particularly liking them, and that did not prevent me from seeking a different result on a later occasion, when the circumstances were right.

I believe that the biggest loss for the European Union that may arise from Ireland’s failure to ratify the Lisbon Treaty is in the area of the fight against cross-border crime and terrorism. At the moment decisions in this area have to be taken by unanimity among 27 countries and measures that are delayed by this include the EU-US Extradition and Mutual Legal Assistance Agreements which were concluded in 2003 and are still not ratified by all 27 Member States, the European Evidence Warrant for obtaining objects, documents and data for use in criminal proceedings or the draft Decision on the stepping up of cross-border cooperation, particularly in combating terrorism and cross-border crime. By introducing majority voting, the Lisbon Treaty would have equipped the European Union with much better decision-making capacity in this vital area, although some could also argue that the stronger rôle of the European Parliament might sometimes make it harder to reach consensus.

In modern Europe, virtually every crime has a cross-border dimension. It may be fuelled by a need to pay for illegal drugs that have been imported from another country. It may involve the use of a weapon or explosives imported from another country. The proceeds of the crime may be lodged in secret bank accounts in another country and the crime itself may involve stealing from other countries electronically or otherwise. The same factors apply in the case of terrorism. It also usually has a cross-border dimension.

The Lisbon Treaty would have equipped the police, the prosecuting authorities and the legislators with a European framework that would have been sophisticated enough to battle against the increasingly sophisticated criminal terrorist networks that are causing so much hardship to Europe's citizens. I regret that this strong and populist case for the adoption of the Lisbon Treaty could not be much made in Ireland because, for reasons I do not understand, both Ireland and Britain reserved to themselves complicated rights to opt in or out of the obligations of this part of the Treaty.

Another very important loss as a result of the possible eventual non-ratification of the Lisbon Treaty would be that the European Union will not get greater legal capacity to act in the area of energy policy. Irish voters today are deeply concerned about oil prices and the impact that these prices are having on the prices of other necessities including food. The Lisbon Treaty would have equipped the European Union with a better legal base, to move forward more aggressively in promoting energy supply security in Europe and in ensuring solidarity between European countries so that no country could be the subject of blackmail because it was unduly dependent on a particular energy source.

A third reason for my disappointment is that the Lisbon Treaty would involve a step forward in the democratization of the European Union. As it stands, the European Union is the only multi-state democracy in the world. This is because the European Parliament is the only directly-elected supra-national parliament in the world that makes legislation that is binding in all the countries represented in the Parliament. In other international organizations, the decision-making is exclusively diplomatic, but in the European Union, because it has a directly elected parliament, the decision-making is democratic as well as diplomatic.

The Lisbon Treaty would have brought this democratic trend further. It would have allowed the European Parliament greater decision-making powers in a range of areas, including the Common Agricultural Policy and cross-border crime, which it does not have now.

The national parliaments of the 27 Member States were also to get a bigger input. They were to have been consulted on whether a newly proposed EU law was a subject that ought to be dealt with at European level, or ought to be left to the Member States or local government. This is what is known as the issue of subsidiarity. They were also to have a say in whether the proposed EU legislation was proportional to the problem it was trying to solve. Was it using a hammer when some softer instrument might have sufficed to achieve the desired goal?

The involvement of the 27 national parliaments in this advance vetting of EU legislation would have served a number of important purposes.

  1. It would have alerted public opinion in the 27 States to EU proposals in good time. Rather than hearing about these proposals, as is often the case at the moment, after they have already been enacted, national public opinions would have been alerted to them through their national parliaments, before they were even considered by the European Parliament or the Council of Ministers. This would greatly enhance the debate about the proposals. It would also give national parliaments a sense of “ownership” of EU laws.
  2. The European Court of Justice would also have been involved in adjudicating on questions of subsidiarity and proportionality and this process would have developed a better case law of the appropriate limits of EU legislation. Even here in the United States there are still debates about whether something should be done at federal or at state level.

If ratified, the Lisbon Treaty would bring into effect a fairer system for distributing seats in the European Parliament based on a transparent and easily understood principle – degressive proportionality. It would prevent the membership of the Parliament growing too big, and thereby losing effectiveness as a deliberative body.

It would establish transparent and clear basis for distributing votes in the Council of Ministers between Member States. This (double majority) approach would have been automatically adaptable to changes in the population, and in the number, of Member States in the EU and would have avoided unnecessary haggling every time either of those changed significantly.

The Lisbon Treaty would equip the EU with greater powers to deal with cross-border health threats. We are all aware of the risk that a drug resistant strain of influenza could spread from animals to humans. Millions of people’s lives would then be at risk. In a Europe in which people routinely pass from one country to another, individual Member States will not be able on their own to cope with global health threats such as this. Some of the actions that would have to be taken to prevent the spread of influenza from one country to another might have to be quite severe. If such measures were to be taken at the EU level, and were to work, it is important that there be a sound legal basis for such decisions. The Lisbon Treaty would have given the EU such a legal basis.

Some have argued that, until the Lisbon Treaty is ratified, no further enlargement of the EU can take place. In legal terms, this is not the case. The Nice Treaty can be adjusted by accession Treaties to accommodate new members without fundamentally changing it. Of course, some Member States might decide that they do not want further enlargement unless Lisbon is ratified, but that is a political choice.

The Lisbon Treaty would enhance the EU's ability to act together internationally. The Lisbon Treaty would give the European Union a single legal personality encompassing the functions of the EU across the board. This single European personality would have been able to conclude treaties with other international actors on a sound legal basis. At the moment the European Union can only conclude such treaties in regard to some of its functions, but not all. This disability puts EU negotiators at a disadvantage in international negotiations and the Lisbon Treaty would have removed that disadvantage.

The Treaty would also have ensured that, in future, the foreign policy of the European Union would be conducted on the basis of very clear, legally binding, objectives contained in the Treaty. These objectives include supporting democracy, the rule of law, human rights and the principles of international law. They also commit the European Union to the purposes and principles of the UN Charter, and to fostering sustainable economic, social and environmental development of developing countries, with the aim of eradicating poverty.

The Lisbon Treaty would also have established a new office of full-time President of the European Council and a High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy. The rotating 6-months presidencies of Member States would have continued in all the other Councils of Ministers, but the new President of the European Council would have acted as chair of European Council meetings of Heads of Government, and the new High Representative would have chaired all the meetings of the EU Foreign Ministers.

Ending the rotating presidency in these two Councils will greatly enhance continuity of decision-making, although it may reduce the sense of ownership of the EU felt in the countries holding the Presidency.

Under Lisbon, the President of the European Council and the President of the European Commission would continue to have had a rôle in foreign policy along with the High Representative, who would also be a Vice President of the European Commission.

In its foreign policy action, the three leaders mentioned above would be assisted by a new External Action Service. It is argued by many that this would have given enhanced coherence to the European Union’s external representation. One ought to point out, however, that foreign and defence policy decisions would have continued to be taken on a unanimous basis amongst all 27 Member States.

Some concerns have been expressed that the collegiality of the European Commission might have been affected by the fact that one of its Vice Presidents was also to be a servant of the Council of Ministers. Concerns have also been expressed that the work load of the new High Representative on Foreign Affairs and Security Policy would have been very heavy in that he/she would have had to attend Commission meetings every week as a Vice President, chair Foreign Affairs Ministers’ meetings in the Council, represent the EU in dozens of meetings with third countries, and also travel the world to meet counterparts and become familiar with problems. On the other hand, the fact that the High Representative would formulate proposals would add to the coherence of EU thinking on foreign and security questions.

One of the issues that was raised by those who supported a "No" vote in the Irish referendum was that the Lisbon Treaty would have reduced the period during which Ireland would have had one of its nationals as a member of the European Commission from 100% of the time as at the moment, to 66% of the time. In part this arose from a misreading of the Treaties. The Nice Treaty, now in force, already requires a reduction in the number of Commissioners below the number of Member States. The Lisbon Treaty does provide for the 66% formula, but it also allows the European Council unanimously to alter that and theoretically to restore the 100% formula. So those who wanted a Commissioner all the time would have had some chance of getting their way if they voted “Yes” to Lisbon, but none by voting “No” because “No” leaves Nice in force.

A final structural reason to be disappointed about Ireland’s decision is that it makes it seem more difficult for the EU to amend its Treaties in future. Rejecting an EU Treaty for a second time makes Ireland a “stumbling block”, which is not a comfortable position for either Ireland or the EU to be in.

What does the Irish result tell us?

Some poll analysis has been done in Ireland since the 12 June Referendum of the views of those in Ireland who voted “No”.

Apparently, young people voted “No” by a margin of 2:1. A slightly larger majority (56%) of women voted “No”. Large numbers who said they did not understand the Treaty (22%) tended to vote “No”. The next largest group was those who said they wished to “protect Ireland’s identity”. Only 6% gave Irish neutrality as a reason, the same percentage as those who gave keeping a Commissioner and lack of trust in politicians as their reasons for voting “No”. More than 70% of those who voted “No” thought that a new replacement Treaty could be renegotiated with relative ease.

The high “No” vote amongst young people is particularly disappointing, as they are the best educated section of the population. Clearly, more work needs to be done in explaining in schools how the EU works. I am told that many women voted “No” because they feared that Irish military neutrality would be compromised, even though there is no foundation for this fear.

If one compares the constituencies in Ireland that voted “No” with those that voted “Yes”, one sees that upper income urban and suburban constituencies tended to vote “Yes”, while lower income or rural constituencies tended to vote “No”. This breakdown reflects some of the divisions seen in other countries, where those with lower incomes tend to feel more vulnerable to globalization and those with higher incomes tend to support it. European integration is identified, in the minds of some Irish people and of people in other European countries, with globalization, although the EU is in fact a means of controlling globalization. In a sense, many who voted “No” wanted things to stay just as they are now, something that is impossible in real life.

47.9% of electorate did not vote and a higher turnout on the “Yes” side might have been achieved if the Referendum had taken place on the same day as local and European elections, when individual candidates of the “Yes” parties would have been mobilizing their voters more fully.

Some might ask why Irish people, who have gained more from the EU than the citizens of any other EU State, would be inclined to vote “No” to the Lisbon Treaty. It is indeed true that Ireland has gained disproportionately from the EU. Not only did EU membership provide an essential part of the basis upon which Ireland was able to attract foreign investment, but it also involved huge net transfers of money from other EU Member States to Ireland over the past 35 years. This happened under EU agricultural, regional and social policies. The particular makeup of the Irish economy – and especially its big temperate-climate agricultural sector - made it eligible for more categories of EU support than any Member State. Naturally, Ireland availed of these policies, even though not all of them had been put there to benefit Ireland as such.

It is beyond doubt in my mind that the majority of those who voted “No” were not voting against the EU. In fact 89% of those who voted said they supported Ireland’s continued membership of the EU. They saw themselves as voting simply against a particular set of Treaty changes that were put to them in a single document, to which they only had an option to say either “Yes” or “No”. They were not offered any choices among the various proposals in the Treaty, but they did sense that they were being asked for their opinion on the package, and that their opinion would be taken seriously.

A Eurobarometer poll carried out in Spring of this year in all EU Member States bears out the thesis that the “No” vote did not represent hostility by “No” voters in Ireland to EU membership.

52% of Europeans have a positive view of their country’s membership of the European Union. 29% believe EU membership is neither good nor bad, and only 14% believe it is a bad thing.

But this poll shows that 73% of Irish people are positive about Ireland’s EU membership. Only in the Netherlands do voters have a more positive view of their country’s EU membership (75%) than the Irish do.

82% of Irish voters said their country had benefitted from EU membership. The next most positive finding on that question was in Denmark (77%). In some countries only 36% of the electorate believed their country had benefitted from EU membership.

The Eurobarometer survey asked Europeans what were the issues that they felt should be dealt with at EU level, rather than at the level of individual States. Fighting terrorism (79%), protecting the environment (71%), promoting research (70%) and defense and foreign affairs (64%) came out at the top of the list of things people felt should be dealt with at EU level.

Trust is a very important ingredient in politics. It is interesting to note that on average 50% of Europeans said that they trusted the EU institutions, whereas only 32% said they trusted their own national governments. The highest levels of trust in national governments were recorded in Cyprus, Finland, Malta and Spain. In Ireland trust in EU institutions is above average – 62%; whereas only 37% say they trust their own national Government.

It is interesting that in the three EU Member States where trust in the EU institutions was lowest, the level of trust in their own national Governments was even lower still. This could imply that intergovernmental EU decision-making is not necessarily the best way to win trust in EU decisions!

The survey also examined attitudes to globalization. The most positive view of globalization in Europe is to be found in Denmark (78%), followed by Sweden (64%) and the Netherlands (63%). On average, 41% of Europeans have a positive view of globalization. In Ireland, only 34% have, and in France only 25%, which may help explain recent referenda results in both countries, although the Netherlands’ case points in a different direction.

An important question is whether Europeans believe there is such a thing as common European values (as distinct from common Western values).

The highest rates of belief in distinctly European values are found in the Netherlands (63%), Belgium (58%), Sweden (54%), France (52%) and Germany (51%). The average is 44% overall.

The lowest levels of belief in the existence of distinctly European values are found in some of the countries who have recently joined the EU, which is understandable. But only 36% of people in Ireland believe in the existence of distinctly European values, which is even less than is the case in the UK (39%), and this contrasts sharply with the high level of belief in EU membership in Ireland. This would suggest that belief in EU membership in Ireland may be based more on perceived economic benefits than shared values. This is an issue that would need to be addressed by those in Ireland who favour deepening Ireland’s integration in the EU and I believe it is a significant factor in the “No” vote.

For my part, I believe the development of shared European values is just as important as developing shared economic interests, and it involves a philosophical, emotional and cultural reflection, rather than a purely materialist one. I believe the EU needs to develop a shared European patriotism, if it is to maintain full solidarity amongst all its members for the remainder of the 21st century.

That dimension was neglected in the debate on the European constitution and Treaties.

What is going to happen now?

The Irish “No” vote is a problem, but it is not a crisis.

The EU is continuing to function, and to function remarkably well, under the pre-existing Treaties. Many feared that when the EU enlarged to 25 members in 2004 that there would be institutional deadlock, arising from the unwieldy size of the membership. It is fair to say that most of those fears have not materialized at all in the past four years.

Areas where the EU is “on the move” include: energy and the environment; the Single Market (especially financial services and food law); more rigorous competition, state aids and infringements policies; expanding the euro zone to include Cyprus and Malta from 1 January 2008; direct taxation (with a steady flow of European Court of Justice (ECJ) rulings on the relationship between national tax policy and EC fundamental freedoms as well as technical progress on the common consolidated corporate tax base); a series of initiatives in justice, freedom and security (reflecting the priority given by all Member States to the fight against terrorism, international crime and migration policy), environment, external relations; and active discussions for new framework agreements with the EU’s main international partners, frequently based on bringing partners closer to EU law and practice.

The Commission, the Council of Ministers and the Europe Parliament continue to make decisions and to do so with relative speed. The EU is sometimes represented by too many players at international meetings, but these players know their roles and this has not proved to be a disabling problem.

I do not believe that the Irish Referendum will or should delay work on EU defence issues which are authorized under existing Treaties. This is driven by strategic and financial considerations that are unaltered by the vote on 12 June.

It is important to stress that the EU will continue to be a very busy organization in the months ahead. It is playing an active rôle in concluding the World Trade talks. It is in the process of adopting radical and far-reaching proposals on climate change. It is highly efficient in protecting consumers and promoting competition. And in all these matters, it is cooperating closely with partners, such as the United States. All this will continue, while the issues arising from the Lisbon vote in Ireland are examined.

In seeking a solution, EU leaders will look at the context, methodology and format of the presentation of the Lisbon Treaty in Ireland. They will want to ensure that all the downstream implications and risks of any solution they might propose are fully faced up to by everyone in advance.

What are the options now?

I have identified four possible options. None of them are easy. All are, in fact, quite risky.

  1. Will Ireland be asked to vote again on the same text?
  2. Some are suggesting that the Irish people might be asked to vote again on the Lisbon Treaty in its present form, after all the other 26 Member States have ratified it, but with some clarificatory political declarations.

    Those people in Ireland who voted ‘No’ because they say they did not understand the Lisbon Treaty might understand it better, or have it better explained to them, in a second referendum campaign. Some concerns might be set aside.

    But Irish people might argue that their original decision was not being taken seriously if they were simply to be presented with the same document in the same format again, especially if the question was put to them only a short period after their earlier decisions and without a new context or new arguments.

    While I believe that the full content of the Lisbon Treaty would, if understood, be accepted by the Irish people, I am not sure that presenting it in the same form a second time is necessarily the best way to achieve that. An issue that would have to be faced would be what would happen if the answer was “No” a second time. Everybody would need to think very carefully about that question, including what one would say in advance, and what the answer would mean for the EU as a whole.

    EU leaders will need to consider if they want to adhere to the existing, long established firm legal and political commitment whereby all States must ratify an EU Treaty if it is to come into effect, or whether they want to create a new precedent in which that might be no longer the case.

    The Brussels-based Centre for European Policy Studies recently suggested that, without waiting for a second referendum, the other 26 Member States might ratify the recently published consolidated version of the Lisbon Treaty, which Ireland could not sign because of the Referendum result, a situation which would, in effect, create a new European Union, of which Ireland would not be a part.

    If Ireland votes “No” a second time, it is possible that a proposal of this kind might gain support. The other Member States will need to think very carefully indeed about establishing such a precedent. Many of them might not be happy with the idea that, in future, non-ratifiers of future Treaties will be liable to be excluded by such a device. If that precedent were to be established in Ireland’s case, it would become much more difficult for the remaining members to negotiate future Treaties and bring them to the ratification stage.

  3. Can Lisbon Package be renegotiated?
  4. Some in Ireland are suggesting that the Lisbon Treaty be renegotiated, or that the powers in the Lisbon Treaty might be used to meet some of the Irish concerns. For example, some say that each Member State might be granted a Commissioner all of the time. As I explained earlier, that can legally be done by unanimous agreement under the Lisbon Treaty. But recent EU experience shows that, if you open one part of a treaty or a treaty package for one Member State, other Member States will demand that other aspects be reopened to meet their needs too.

    Even a slight amendment of a protocol to the Lisbon Treaty, or the text itself, would require that all of the States who have already ratified the Lisbon Treaty present the revised Treaty to be ratified all over again by their parliaments. Going through a process of ratification again would be exceptionally difficult for some other EU Member States.

  5. Could the Lisbon Treaty be approved in segments?
  6. A third approach might suggest itself.

    Some of the content of the Lisbon Treaty does not have to be in Treaty form at all. It is simply organizational material that has no effect on the sovereignty of individual Member States and might be implemented by ordinary legislation or administrative action.

    The material that does require Treaty amendment could then be identified separately.

    Some might argue that, at 51 years of age, the European Union is now mature enough to amend its treaties – which are already effectively the EU’s “constitution” - in the same way that States amend their constitutions. States rarely seek to amend their constitutions by presenting a single, very long text containing dozens of different constitutional changes in one document, and then asking that everything be approved as a package, on the basis of a simple “Yes” or “No”.

    They usually present constitutional changes individually to their electorates or their other ratifying authorities and allow them to vote on each one individually. A number of constitutional amendments might be presented in a package, and some might be contingent on others, but the electorate or ratifying authority would generally given individual choices. That makes the task of the electorate easier and avoids easy misrepresentation.

    Such an approach might make sense as a means of going forward with those reforms in the Lisbon Treaty that do require Treaty amendment.

    That would also involve a lot of new work, and would mean going back to those who have already ratified to present some of the material in a different form. Again, this would be exceptionally difficult to contemplate for some Member States and would involve prolonging debate about institutional reform of which they are already tired. It would also imply that Member States might “pick and choose” differently, thus adding to the complexity of the way the EU operates. But, on the other hand, it would avoid turning a series of practical reforms into a single, potentially existential, question. It would make it more difficult to misrepresent what was being proposed.

  7. Could the issue be dealt with in the next Accession Treaty?
  8. Some of the urgency behind the Lisbon Treaty is related to the need to accommodate a larger number of Member States in the EU.

    Another vehicle for introducing the Lisbon reforms, or most of them, would be to include them in part of the next accession Treaty for a new member, e.g. Croatia. This Treaty would in turn have to be ratified by all the existing members.

    This would link the reforms to a concrete case. A referendum on new accession will occur in some countries anyway, so some of the issues will be revisited then anyway. But again it would involve re-ratifying the Lisbon material with all the difficulties that entails.

Could further enhancement of EU-wide democracy be part of a deal to solve the overall problem?

One of the difficulties faced by those of us who campaigned for a “Yes” vote in Ireland was that, while the Treaty contained many good individual ideas, there was no one big democratic idea that grabbed the imagination of the electorate. There was no signature, or bumper sticker, issue that summed up for the general public what the Treaty was about.

The additional powers for the national parliaments, the citizens' initiative and the extra powers for the European Parliament were all, of course, valuable and important ideas in themselves, but they did not add up to a really big saleable democratic idea.

I believe it would be possible to make a package of Lisbon Treaty-based reforms, however presented, much more attractive to electorates, if an additional element of further direct democracy was added.

Many already complain that there is not a European “demos” and say that that is why the EU often gets bogged down in compromises between individual countries. A European “demos” will never come about by accident. It will only come about, if it is created.

Let me suggest one way in which a European demos might be created.

In addition to the electorates of each Member State voting directly for the members of their national delegation in the European Parliament, I believe we should allow the people of Europe as a whole to vote, in a single Europe-wide election, on the question of who should be the President of the European Council or the President of the Commission. That would not increase the legal power of either office, but it would provide a channel for voters all over Europe to vote together on the same day as Europeans, rather than just as members of national constituencies.

A direct election of an EU President, and the election campaign for such a post, would create a real European “demos”. A European demos would gradually build a collective EU public opinion, and that in turn would make amending EU treaties much easier in future.

Another way to create a European “demos” would be to allow a portion of the European Parliament’s MEPs (say 10%) to be elected at large throughout the whole EU, rather than, as at present, have all MEPs elected from national constituencies.

The EU – still going strong

There is life after Lisbon – and for the European Union this is still a good life. I keep reminding people how much has been achieved in such a relatively short time – just 50 years. I doubt if the founders could have ever foreseen that their initial idea of a European Community would eventually turn into a 27-strong Union, with free movement of people and goods, its own currency and shared successes in so many areas. The Irish “No” to the Lisbon Treaty has not changed any of that. The EU has hit bumps on the road before, but we keep going as we strive to grow bigger and stronger and to continue our unprecedented democratic and voluntary integration experiment. In an increasingly globalized world, the European Union is more relevant than ever today and I am happy to note that both Europe and the rest of the world are a better place because of it.

 

By Ambassador John Bruton, Head of the Delegation of the European Commission to the United States
(Prepared remarks presented on 11 July 2008 at the European Institute meeting held at the Cosmos Club in Washington, DC)

The views expressed are personal and do not necessarily reflect the views of the European Commission