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The consequences of the Irish “No” deciphered

(BRUSSELS2) Here is a small analysis of the consequences of the Irish No on institutional changes and which dispels some preconceived ideas: No, the Treaty of Nice is not the announced disaster and does not work so badly, Yes Europe can wait a few more months, No the institutional reform of the Lisbon Treaty is not the universal panacea (1).

This is not the announced disaster

For European lawyers and diplomats, the non-entry into force of the Lisbon Treaty on 1 January 2009 (as planned) does not spell disaster. But just one more episode in a European adventure that forces us to innovate every day. In fact, if the Irish “No” weighs on the general political climate, it also solves certain institutional puzzles. At least, in the short term. And since the current system, modified by the Treaty of Nice, is proving to be more effective than some Cassandres predicted, a new text is not as urgent.

... The Treaty of Nice does not work so badly

Since the entry into force of the Treaty of Nice in 2003 and the enlargement in 2004, the rate of adoption of texts has in fact not decreased. It is even a little higher at Twenty-Seven Member States than at Fifteen, report diplomats. A certain number of subjects have in fact passed to qualified majority and co-decision. This is the case for the structural funds or questions of asylum and illegal immigration. And if the 27 agree, they can use the “gateway” mechanism to change the voting methods, on three additional subjects: police and judicial cooperation, legal immigration or social Europe.

In fact, the 27 already apply a “double majority” vote. And the change in the methods of calculation, provided for by the Treaty of Lisbon, only really comes into play in a Union of 30 members. In the short term, it mainly changes the balance of power between states, giving more blocking power to Germany. This is not automatically advantageous for the progress of the texts. Finally, the creation of a vanguard group of states is now easier. The threshold, fixed in Nice, of 8 Member States, being easier to reach at 27 than at 15 (perhaps a first example with the divorce procedure).

Two institutional puzzles solved

The postponement of the ratification of the Lisbon Treaty also solves two heavy institutional puzzles.

1° Lawyers were tearing their hair out trying to figure out how to square the circle: appoint the main European leaders on 1 January before having the results of the European elections and therefore the political color of the next Parliament.

2° It makes it possible to postpone one of the aberrations of the Lisbon Treaty until later: the country which held the presidency of the EU did not chair any of the prestigious meetings (Foreign Affairs, Eurogroup, European Council) but continued to lead the second-tier training. In political terms, this change would have meant, for example, a rather unusual French presidency: without Sarkozy, Kouchner and Lagarde… but with Borloo, Bertrand and Hortefeux in the leading roles! An imbalance that can be very dangerous in coalition governments, as several European states have. Finally, he calms the notorious Czech eurosceptic, Vaclav Klaus, who wanted to fully assume the presidency of the EU in the first half of 1.

Enlargement not blocked but complicated

In the longer term, the non-adoption of the Lisbon Treaty has troublesome consequences. If it does not block new memberships, such as Croatia or Serbia, it complicates it slightly. Each enlargement makes it necessary to adapt the number of seats in the European Parliament and the distribution of votes in the Council of Ministers of the EU. Or heated discussions in perspective. From a “technical” point of view, on the other hand, this poses a problem; these provisions generally appear in the Accession Treaty, often ratified by parliament.

To expand skills, a problem, we will have to "innovate"

Another consequence, the absence of certain legal bases – for civil protection, public services or defence, for example – will deprive the Union of possibilities for new action, unless European lawyers find a way out. Which shouldn't be a problem. The past has already proven it. Lawyers always have an innovation in their pockets. The implementation of an environmental policy, of the Defense agency, of the European Council were made on a “very artistic” legal basis!

Consequences on Institutions

The Irish "No" has an immediate consequence: it postpones the entry into force of the Lisbon Treaty to a later date (the planned date of January 2009 might not be kept). This has very concrete immediate consequences for the institutions.

1) At the next elections Europeans, in June 2009, several countries will see their number of seats reduced according to the figures enacted in Nice; Spain and France being the big losers in this game of chairs (for Ireland it does not change anything).

2) Each Member State will no longer have a commissioner in the next college; the size of the Commission to be reduced from 2009 (instead of 2014). The 27 must therefore quickly agree on an "egalitarian rotation" mechanism to ensure a "fair" representation of the "demographic and geographical range" of the Union (see the details). This unanimously… Removing the seat of the only Irish commissioner is therefore more of a “fair talk” than a serious eventuality. (I will come back to this in a post dedicated to the Commission)

3) The High Representative for Foreign Affairs, who was to obtain more powers, will keep his role, more humble, of "Good offices". Which is a shame.

4) There will be no Chairman standing in Europe.

Fewer posts to distribute in 2009

In the "hunt for current posts", the presidency of the European Commission is therefore more than ever, by 2009, the important post. It is therefore understandable that its current holder, José-Manuel Barroso, is leading an active campaign for its renewal. Which will not automatically be easy. Because in certain capitals, like in Berlin, one could have other sights, to estimate for example that a German speaker would be welcome, after 40 years of absence. And in Paris, even if Nicolas Sarkozy officially shows his full support for Barroso "the best candidate today", we must never forget the adjective of time... which has always been a constant with the president of the UMP (for those who have a short memory, see the constitution of the government in France, where some "best candidates" did not have the hoped-for seat!).

(Nicolas Gros-Verheyde)

(1) Personally, I have never had a crush on the institutional arrangement of the Constitution / included in the Treaty of Lisbon which contains as many problems as it solves. While we can approve of the reinforced role of the European Parliament, the extension of codecision and qualified majority, and above all the reinforced role of the Minister for Foreign Affairs, on the other hand, I do not really share enthusiasm for the double majority system, a Mr Europe, the reduction of the Commission, the reinforced role of the national Parliaments, which do not really seem to me to be guarantees of European progress.

Nicolas Gros Verheyde

Chief editor of the B2 site. Graduated in European law from the University of Paris I Pantheon Sorbonne and listener to the 65th session of the IHEDN (Institut des Hautes Etudes de la Défense Nationale. Journalist since 1989, founded B2 - Bruxelles2 in 2008. EU/NATO correspondent in Brussels for Sud-Ouest (previously West-France and France-Soir).