EU keeps ticking without Lisbon treaty, report says
By Honor Mahony
Europe continues to work without the Lisbon treaty and the demise of the document would not be a catastrophe for the bloc, an influential think tank has said.
In an assessment of Ireland's referendum rejection of the EU treaty published on Thursday (7 August), the London-based Centre for European Reform concludes that "Europe works fairly well in many areas with the current treaties."
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It notes that the 27-nation bloc continues to achieve results and "integrate" using intergovernmental bodies such as the European Defence Agency and through new laws such as those on liberalising the energy market in Europe or the Emissions Trading Scheme.
But the paper suggests that the EU would be "much better off" with the Lisbon Treaty - already ratified by 23 member states - as it would clear up the "dreadful arrangements" for managing EU foreign policy, currently a mishmash of personalities and responsibilities.
It would also allow easier decision-making in the area of justice and home affairs and give more power to national parliaments, writes Charles Grant, the author of the report and director of CER.
His assessment concludes that there are three possible options ahead, with the treaty needing ratification by all member states if it is to go into place.
Under the first scenario, Ireland would hold a second referendum having secured reassurance from its EU partners that certain areas such as tax, neutrality and abortion would not be affected by the treaty. Timing would be important. If Dublin does not hold the referendum before April next year, then the current rules for reducing EU commissioners - and the haggling this entails - will remain in place.
The second scenario envisages Dublin refusing to have a second referendum although this is likely to result in "huge pressure" from the French EU presidency, amongst others. This would likely mean that while the Lisbon treaty as a whole would be ditched, governments would try and salvage parts of it using Croatia's accession treaty.
Croatia is due to join the EU in a few years and parts of the treaty could be tacked onto its accession package, something that has to be ratified by all member states but which is not normally put to referendum.
Under the third "most poisonous" scenario, Ireland would hold a second referendum and vote No, leading to "internal divisions," with countries such as Britain and central European states likely to block any attempt to kick the country out of the EU.
The paper predicts that whatever eventually happens with the Lisbon Treaty, it is likely to be the last attempt by the EU to adopt a "big, comprehensive" treaty. Instead the bloc will probably opt for sectoral treaties in areas such as energy or migration policy in future.
While the Irish government contemplates its next move following the 12 June referendum, other countries have already made decisions in light of the rejection.
Danish Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen has called off plans to hold a referendum on the country's four opt-outs from the current EU treaties.
"We had originally made reservations for an EU debate in the autumn and perhaps a referendum. Due to the Irish referendum, the situation is now so unclear that the plan is no longer current," he said in an interview with Danish daily Jyllands-Posten on Thursday (7 August).
According to a fresh opinion poll published in business daily Borsen on Friday, a majority of Danes is in favour of scrapping the four opt-outs.
A large majority is ready to join EU defence co-operation while a slim majority is in favour of taking part in the euro, fully joining EU justice and home affairs and accepting EU citizenship.