Change of approach
Wednesday 02 July 2008
France was glad to inherit a historic mission for its EU Presidency in the second half of 2008: put in place new governance tools on the basis of the unanimously ratified Lisbon Treaty and, in the same stride, begin work on new Community policies.
The Irish ‘no’ to the Lisbon Treaty broke this stride. French government ministers affirm that this ‘no’ changes nothing, or almost nothing, for the French Presidency’s priorities. Technically, they are correct. The Lisbon legal regime would not have come into force until 1 January 2009 at the earliest. The Union is still in 2008 (and probably for a long time yet) in the framework of the Nice Treaty, which will not prevent the EU27 from continuing to work together.
On the other hand, politically, everything has changed with the Irish ‘no’. In good faith, political leaders from all sides have, over the years, drafted texts that they thought were fundamental and, above all, legitimate since the European Parliament representative of 490 million Europeans and, up to now, 18 national parliaments out of 27 have approved them. Yes, but three referenda have also shown a schism, or at least a strong incomprehension between those who construct the EU and those who must benefit from it. This is a major political fact.
The main consequence is that, from now on, no institution, no member state, especially when it holds the rotating Presidency, will be able to present a European act without having made the effort of putting it in the only political certainty that is comprehensible by all: the EU takes responsibility for the defence of Europeans’ interests first. And proves it!
This reality is largely shared in Europe after the latest warning shot from Ireland. It rings out at a good time for President Nicolas Sarkozy. From 2006, in a campaign speech, which the Irish voters would have certainly supported overwhelmingly, the politician, who has since then become the head of the French state, formulated his vision of a Europe which must “protect” and not worry: “When I look at the world, everywhere I see political will. Everywhere, but not enough in Europe. […] I want a Europe which protects Europeans like all the other countries protect their nationals. Because if Europe does not protect enough, it is protectionism which will triumph, national selfishness which will prevail, and the European project will disintegrate.” In the same breath, he attacked the absence of governance which makes the euro “a directionless currency,” “a monetary policy which is not concerned with growth or unemployment,” “certain member states” (particularly Ireland), which “thanks to European aid” practice “tax dumping,” a “competition policy which is an obstacle to any industrial policy,” “a Europe which is diluted by endless enlargement,” and those who would have the European preference pass for a four-letter word when signs for American, Canadian, Chinese and Indian preference prevail. This is the man who will preside over the destiny of 490 million Europeans. And today he is up against the wall, deprived of the Lisbon Treaty and faced with the challenge of turning his declarations into acts.
Seemingly, when the heads of states and government of the EU27 gather in mid-October and, as agreed, get a fix on the situation in Ireland, institutional concerns (life with Nice or Lisbon) will move into the background. In all logic, over the next six months, they will speak more of a Europe which protects during globalisation, which fights against speculators in a period of food and oil crises, which defends its agriculture, which slows immigration, which asserts itself in the international bargaining over climate change, which gives itself more ways to act on security and defence matters, and which, as Jacques Delors himself recently proposed, should put in place a European energy community, as there were coal and steel communities, if only to exist in the face of producers, particularly Russia.
Affirming a part of all these ambitions would signify a change of approach. Even for a voluntary Presidency, six months is a short space of time to regain Europeans’ trust and give new prospects. n