The future of the EU after the Irish ‘No’: many uncertainties

1. How does the future of the EU after the Irish ‘No’ look like?


Conclusions of the European Council of December 2008 on the fate of the Lisbon Treaty

Over­com­ing the cri­sis cre­at­ed by the Irish ‘No’ in June 2008 was one of the French Presidency’s main pri­or­i­ties. How­ev­er, now that this pres­i­den­cy has come to an end, the insti­tu­tion­al future of the Euro­pean Union still remains quite unclear. The Euro­pean Coun­cil that was held on 11 and 12 Decem­ber in Brus­sels – the third and last Euro­pean Coun­cil orga­nized by the French Pres­i­den­cy – was sup­posed to be a priv­i­leged occa­sion for the mem­ber states to tack­le dif­fer­ent impor­tant ques­tions, name­ly: Eco­nom­i­cal and Finan­cial issues, Ener­gy and Cli­mate Change, Agri­cul­tur­al Pol­i­cy, the CFSP, but above all, the fate of the Lis­bon Treaty. This issue was espe­cial­ly impor­tant for the French Pres­i­den­cy, con­sid­er­ing that get­ting Europe out of the cri­sis gen­er­at­ed by the Irish ‘No’ had been defined has one of its major pri­or­i­ties. The gov­ern­ment had announced clear­ly its inten­tion to have all mem­ber states agree­ing on the roadmap it was about to pro­pose dur­ing this Coun­cil, under­lin­ing the fact that all Irish requests would be tak­en into account. In France, media atten­tion was main­ly focused on this issue, “the most burn­ing issue of the French Presidency”.[1] Most observers seem to con­sid­er the out­come of this sum­mit as a large suc­cess, giv­en that an agree­ment on the Lis­bon Treaty has final­ly been achieved. Var­i­ous mem­bers of the French gov­ern­ment even qual­i­fied this agree­ment as ‘his­tor­i­cal’. Accord­ing to Le Monde, the out­come of this Coun­cil was a main polit­i­cal vic­to­ry for the French Presidency.[2] How­ev­er, the non-adop­tion of the treaty, and the uncer­tain­ty con­cern­ing when it will final­ly enter into force, has com­pli­cat­ed a num­ber of insti­tu­tion­al issues.

Upcoming European Parliament elections: “one should not expect a miracle”

The Euro­pean Par­lia­ment (EP) elec­tions in June 2009 are sur­round­ed by uncer­tain­ties, giv­en that it has not been decid­ed whether the Nice Treaty or the Lis­bon Treaty would apply. Dif­fer­ent media empha­sised the efforts made by Pres­i­dent Nico­las Sarkozy in order to solve this prob­lem as soon as pos­si­ble, but also under­lined the ‘deep con­fu­sion’ sur­round­ing the future of the EU, and the fact that the impact of the Irish ‘No’ is all the more impor­tant in the con­text of the upcom­ing EP elections.[3] As under­lined by French MEP Alain Lamas­soure, group of the Euro­pean People’s Par­ty (EPP), “the MEPs need to know which Treaty will be in force for the elec­tions, or they will remain in an unten­able sit­u­a­tion, in which both can­di­dates and vot­ers ignore the exact pow­ers giv­en to the per­sons elected”.[4] The also for­mer Sec­re­tary of State for Euro­pean Affairs under­lined the fact that the Irish ‘No’ was noth­ing but a ‘mis­un­der­stand­ing’, advo­cat­ing for enforce­ment of the Lis­bon Treaty before these elections.[5] Accord­ing to “Notre Europe’s” Steer­ing Com­mit­tee, these elec­tions of the new Par­lia­ment in June 2009 will be an oppor­tu­ni­ty to strength­en the legit­i­ma­cy of the new Commission’s leadership.[6] How­ev­er, Bruno Cautrès (Sci­ences Po), con­sid­ers that one should not expect a mir­a­cle for the next elections.[7] The last Euro­barom­e­ter shows that only 16 per­cent of the cit­i­zens know about them, and only 10 per­cent are intend­ing to vote.[8] Oth­ers are chal­leng­ing the Euro­pean fea­ture of these elec­tions, argu­ing that they are noth­ing more than 27 nation­al elec­tions, with 27 dif­fer­ent elec­toral laws.[9] Accord­ing to Har­ald Greib (Newro­peans), a true Euro­pean democ­ra­cy would only be pos­si­ble if all Euro­pean vot­ers could elect their rep­re­sen­ta­tives in the frame­work of a unique Euro­pean election.[10]

The formation of a new Commission: discussion on the President and the French Commissioner

Debates about the future of the EU also con­cern the Euro­pean Com­mis­sion. The agree­ment reached with the Irish rep­re­sen­ta­tive has been quite well wel­comed in France, which is very attached to its Com­mis­sion­er: “How could we pos­si­bly imag­ine a Com­mis­sion which would not include a French or a Ger­man Com­mis­sion­er?” declared the Pres­i­dent of the French Sen­ate For­eign Affair’ Com­mit­tee, Jos­selin de Rohan.[11] More gen­er­al­ly, “Le Monde” reports that the Com­mis­sion is fac­ing insid­er crit­i­cism. Many con­sid­er it to be too cau­tious and absent, oth­ers see it as being too rigid and inflexible.[12] French dai­ly news­pa­per notes, how­ev­er, that the des­tinies of insti­tu­tions are often linked to those of the peo­ple who are lead­ing them, and stands rather crit­i­cal towards the ‘opaque Barroso’.[13] For this rea­son, debates regard­ing the future Pres­i­dent of the future Com­mis­sion are cru­cial. Paris seems to con­sid­er that José Manuel Bar­roso would be the best can­di­date for its own suc­ces­sion. Accord­ing to “Libéra­tion”, the Social­ists will not “engage a hope­less bat­tle” and would not put for­ward a can­di­date. This posi­tion is crit­i­cised by the Greens, as well as by the cen­tre par­ty “Mou­ve­ment Démoc­rate” (MODEM). Accord­ing to green MEP Daniel Cohn-Ben­dit, “it is unbe­liev­able to be doomed from the start like that”. Marielle de Sarnez (MODEM) points her crit­ics at Bar­roso, who “failed and was unable to pro­pose any­thing. There is a need for a Pres­i­dent that does not behave like a Sec­re­tary for mem­ber states”.[14] As for the future French Com­mis­sion­er, Jacques Bar­rot declared that he would be inter­est­ed in enrolling for a sec­ond term. How­ev­er, the name of Michel Barnier, for­mer Com­mis­sion­er, is now on many lips.[15]

Critics regarding the appointment of the High Representative

In com­par­i­son with all these cri­sis and chal­lenges for the French Pres­i­den­cy, debates on the High Rep­re­sen­ta­tive have been a lot more dis­creet. Alain Lamas­soure, French Mem­ber of the Euro­pean Par­lia­ment and for­mer State Sec­re­tary for Euro­pean Affairs, crit­i­cized the mode of des­ig­na­tion of this High rep­re­sen­ta­tive, “left to secret nego­ti­a­tions between Heads of State and Government”.[16] He advo­cat­ed for a more trans­par­ent mode of des­ig­na­tion, stand­ing in favour of a des­ig­na­tion after the Par­lia­men­tary elec­tions, in June 2009. Dif­fer­ent mem­bers of the gov­ern­ment – such as Bruno le Maire, the new State Sec­re­tary for Euro­pean Affairs – are high­light­ing the need of a pow­er­ful high rep­re­sen­ta­tive: “There is need for a pow­er­ful Com­mis­sion, a pow­er­ful Par­lia­ment, and a pow­er­ful High Rep­re­sen­ta­tive. It is when all the insti­tu­tions are pow­er­ful that the EU is influ­en­tial itself”.[17] As under­lined by dif­fer­ent media, the main prob­lem lies in the fact that its nom­i­na­tion process and exact com­pe­tences remain unclear.

2. Transatlantic Relations Renewed after President Bush: Top Priorities


Hope may be replaced with deception

In France, like in oth­er EU mem­ber states, the elec­tion of Barack Oba­ma as Pres­i­dent of the Unit­ed States has been warm­ly wel­comed. French Pres­i­dent Nico­las Sarkozy in his let­ter of con­grat­u­la­tions to Oba­ma informed him of the immense hope in France, Europe and beyond: “the hope of an open Amer­i­ca, char­ac­ter­ized by sol­i­dar­i­ty and strength that will once again lead the way, with its part­ners, through the pow­er of its exam­ple and the adher­ence to its principles”.[18] Accord­ing to philoso­pher André Glucks­man, this hope even led Euro­pean pub­lic opin­ion to over­look the more incon­ve­nient sides of Barack Oba­ma. Euro­peans, he thinks, have del­e­gat­ed to him the task of look­ing after the woes of the world and the chal­lenges of the near future.[19] Accord­ing to Ezra Suleiman, polit­i­cal sci­ence Pro­fes­sor, they are expect­ing too much and this hope may be replaced with deception.[20]

First priority: reinforcing multilateralism

Coop­er­a­tion is the key­word of French observers regard­ing US-EU rela­tions. On cli­mate change, peace­keep­ing in the Mid­dle East, the nuclear ques­tion in Iran, or rela­tions with Rus­sia, Euro­peans hope that Oba­ma will change US atti­tudes and put an end to unilateralism.[21] How­ev­er, many experts remain lucid about these expec­ta­tions. The for­mer Min­is­ter for For­eign Affairs, Hubert Védrine, admits that Euro­peans have an oppor­tu­ni­ty because every change in US admin­is­tra­tion opens a win­dow for discussions.[22] Fur­ther­more, the new admin­is­tra­tion will cer­tain­ly not be as uni­lat­er­al­ist as its pre­de­ces­sor. But peo­ple may be dis­ap­point­ed if they believe that the Unit­ed States will now decide things col­lec­tive­ly. Accord­ing to Benoît Cheva­lier, Pro­fes­sor at Sci­ences Po, “There is no do-good­er approach to wait from Oba­ma, who will defend US inter­ests like any oth­er president”.[23] And this state­ment con­cerns dif­fer­ent poli­cies on which Euro­peans are expect­ing more coop­er­a­tion with the Unit­ed States.

Second priority: diplomacy and global order

On many inter­na­tion­al issues, EU mem­ber states were reluc­tant to fol­low US pol­i­cy. “Le Monde” reminds in its edi­to­r­i­al that the Euro­pean troi­ka in charge of nego­ti­a­tions with Iran on the nuclear ques­tion hard­ly man­aged to define a clear strat­e­gy, between its will­ing­ness to help Iran to build its own civil­ian nuclear indus­try (on the con­di­tion that Iran aban­don its ura­ni­um enrich­ment pro­gram), and its readi­ness to impose sanc­tions in the event of a refusal. This sit­u­a­tion was also the con­se­quence of Euro­pean fear that the US would respond to an Iran threat with mil­i­tary action. Wash­ing­ton will soon join the nego­ti­a­tions. As Oba­ma repeat­ed­ly insist­ed on the need for the US to revive diplo­mat­ic rela­tions with Teheran, Euro­pean expec­ta­tions are high on this issue.[24] Anoth­er test for transat­lantic rela­tions, “Le Monde” argues, will be Afghanistan. As Oba­ma has indi­cat­ed it to be piv­otal in the strug­gle against ter­ror­ism, he intends to send in more troops but he is expect­ing Europe to do the same. The ques­tion is whether Euro­peans will be ready to fol­low the new pres­i­dent in this direction.[25]

Third priority: trade relations in a context of economic crisis

Eco­nom­ic and trade rela­tions will also be a key issue for transat­lantic rela­tions. Many experts observe that the finan­cial and eco­nom­ic cri­sis could lead to more pro­tec­tion­ism from both sides of the Atlantic. Hubert Védrine reminds that Oba­ma vot­ed against all the last free trade agreements.[26] He thinks that the US will not turn inwards, but it will sure­ly try to pro­tect its nation­al indus­tries against Asian com­pe­ti­tion. Accord­ing to Dominique Moïsi from IFRI “French Insti­tute for Inter­na­tion­al Rela­tions”, state aids to nation­al indus­try lead­ers could desta­bilise inter­na­tion­al coop­er­a­tion, just like the tar­iffs bar­ri­ers did in the past.[27]

Climate change and the future of the Kyoto Protocol

Anoth­er cru­cial issue for EU-US rela­tions is cli­mate change pol­i­cy. Accord­ing to French envi­ron­ment and ener­gy expert Pierre Radanne, the Unit­ed States will be back into cli­mate nego­ti­a­tions after the elec­tion of Obama.[28] This rais­es the issue of lead­er­ship at the inter­na­tion­al lev­el. Brice Lalonde, for­mer Min­is­ter for the Envi­ron­ment and now French ambas­sador for cli­mate change, assumes that because of the EU being self-cen­tred with its ener­gy cli­mate pack­age, lead­er­ship failed in Poz­nan, for the 14th UN Con­fer­ence on Climate.[29] Noëlle Lenoir, for­mer Min­is­ter for Euro­pean Affairs, even fears that where­as Euro­pean mem­ber states seem to renounce to ambi­tious tar­gets in this sec­tor, there is a high risk that the Unit­ed States will take its lead­er­ship and impose its norms and tech­nolo­gies on the rest of the world.[30]

Flo­rence Autret, a French jour­nal­ist, sum­marised the upcom­ing chal­lenges for transat­lantic rela­tions. Accord­ing to her, on all these issues (diplo­ma­cy, econ­o­my or envi­ron­ment) the elec­tion of Barack Oba­ma will place Europe face to face with its own responsibilities.[31]

3. The EU response to the financial crisis and challenge of global governance.


EU needs to play a determinant role

All polit­i­cal and eco­nom­i­cal actors, as well as observers in France, strong­ly under­lined the deter­mi­nant role that the Euro­pean Union needs to play in the reg­u­la­tion of finan­cial cap­i­tal­ism. The French Pres­i­den­cy announced its will­ing­ness to strength­en and increase the EU pre­rog­a­tives in terms of finan­cial reg­u­la­tion, espe­cial­ly on finan­cial institutions.[32] Nico­las Sarkozy under­lined the neces­si­ty of rein­forc­ing the rules of gov­er­nance and inter­nal con­trol with­in these insti­tu­tions, and of a bet­ter con­trol of rat­ing agen­cies. The report elab­o­rat­ed by French ‘Com­mis­saire aux Comptes’, René Ricol, on the finan­cial cri­sis draws con­clu­sions lead­ing to this direc­tion. Among them, it sug­gests to allow the Euro­pean Par­lia­ment to tack­le the issue of the recent increase of raw material’s prices.[33] As for French Trade Unions, they are large­ly advo­cat­ing for a strong role of the EU in reg­u­lat­ing the eco­nom­ic and finan­cial sys­tem. As the major Trade Union CFDT points out, “the pos­i­tive role of tense peri­ods is to redis­cov­er the role of the EU and its insti­tu­tions […] Man­ag­ing these dif­fi­cul­ties imposed urgent and coor­di­nat­ed ini­tia­tives with undreamt suc­cess, even regard­ing the finan­cial crisis”.[34]

Unity prevailed throughout the crisis

From a gen­er­al point of view, the way EU mem­ber states man­aged to deal with the finan­cial cri­sis are quite well eval­u­at­ed in France. The uni­ty that pre­vailed between the mem­ber states is the first point under­lined by polit­i­cal actors. The Min­is­ter for For­eign Affairs, Bernard Kouch­n­er, was proud to announce the good under­stand­ing among the Euro­pean mem­ber states. He also high­light­ed the fact that France stands firm­ly in favour of a new inter­na­tion­al reg­u­la­tion sys­tem, which should be trans­par­ent and well controlled.[35] French MEP Alain Lamas­soure also under­lined the fact that the EU man­aged to stand unit­ed to deal with the finan­cial cri­sis, qual­i­fy­ing the Octo­ber Euro­pean Coun­cil, in which the Action Plan has been unan­i­mous­ly approved by the 27 mem­ber states, as “exceptional”.[36] Even if the tense rela­tions between the French and Ger­man Heads of State have been empha­sised, the final com­pro­mise, very impor­tant for the suc­cess of the Eurogroup meet­ings, is con­sid­ered as a polit­i­cal victory.[37] The Action Plan adopt­ed by the 15 mem­bers of the Eurogroup is seen as a good way to pre­serve the finan­cial sys­tem stability.

All polit­i­cal, social and eco­nom­i­cal actors, as well as experts and observers, are advo­cat­ing for more reg­u­la­tion on the inter­na­tion­al stage. How­ev­er, the G20 Sum­mit, held in Novem­ber 2008 in Wash­ing­ton, in which the EU advo­cat­ed for a com­plete revi­sion of the Inter­na­tion­al Mon­e­tary Fund (IMF), has been con­sid­ered with some scep­ti­cism in France. Even the Pres­i­dent of the IMF, French econ­o­mist Dominique Strauss Kahn, under­lined the fact that changes in the inter­na­tion­al sys­tem will not be easy to reach. “Things are not going to change from one day to anoth­er. It took two years to pre­pare Bret­ton Woods. A lot of peo­ple are talk­ing about a Bret­ton Woods II. It sounds good but we are not going to cre­ate a new inter­na­tion­al Treaty”, he said.[38]




[1] Le Monde, 12 Decem­ber 2008.
[2] Ibid.
[3] La Tri­bune, 30 Sep­tem­ber 2008.
[4] Eurac­tiv, 30 Sep­tem­ber 2008, avail­able at: (last access: 26 Feb­ru­ary 2009)
[5] Ibid.
[6] Notre Europe, “In the face of cri­sis, there is a need for Europe”, Dec­la­ra­tion of Notre Europe’s Steer­ing Com­mit­tee, 7 Novem­ber 2008.
[7] Inter­view,, 17 Decem­ber 2008, avail­able at:‑1.html (last access: 26 Feb­ru­ary 2009).
[8] Eurac­tiv, 17 Decem­ber 2008.
[9] Newro­peans, 11 Jan­u­ary 2009.
[10] Ibid.
[11] Compte-ren­du des débats au Sénat, 09 Decem­ber 2008, avail­able at: (last access: 26 Feb­ru­ary 2009).
[12] Le Monde, 21 Novem­ber 2008.
[13] Ibid.
[14] Libéra­tion, 21 Novem­ber 2008.
[15] Libéra­tion, 11 Decem­ber 2008.
[16] Inter­view, Le Cer­cle des Européens, 6 June 2008, avail­able at: (last access: 26 Feb­ru­ary 2009)
[17] Le Maire B., Enseigne­ments de la prési­dence Française, avail­able at: (last access: 26 Feb­ru­ary 2009).
[18] Let­ter of con­grat­u­la­tions from Pres­i­dent Nico­las Sarkozy to Pres­i­dent-elect Barack Oba­ma, 05 Novem­ber 2008, avail­able at: (last access: 26 Feb­ru­ary 2009).
[19] Le Figaro, 12 Novem­ber 2008.
[20] Le Nou­v­el Obser­va­teur, 06 Novem­ber 2008.
[21] AFP, 06 Novem­ber 2008.
[22] Inter­view, Les Echos, 06 Novem­ber 2008.
[23] Le Nou­v­el Obser­va­teur, 05 Novem­ber 2008.
[24] Le Monde, 19 Novem­ber 2008.
[25] Ibid.
[26] Védrine H., op. cit.
[27] Les Echos, 31 Decem­ber 2008.
[28] Radanne P., Note pour la fon­da­tion Ter­ra Nova, 03 Decem­ber 2008, avail­able at: (last access: 26 Feb­ru­ary 2009).
[29] Libéra­tion, 15 Decem­ber 2008.
[30] Lenoir N., “Le lead­er­ship européen sur le cli­mat a des chances d’être dépassé par les Etats-Unis”, Le Cer­cle des Européens, 12 Novem­ber 2008, avail­able at: (last access: 26 Feb­ru­ary 2009).
[31] Inter­view,, 05 Novem­ber 2008, avail­able at: (last access: 26 Feb­ru­ary 2009)
[32] La Tri­bune, 02 Sep­tem­ber 2008.
[33] Ricol R., Rap­port sur la crise finan­cière, Sep­tem­bre 2008, avail­able at: (last access: 26 Feb­ru­ary 2009).
[34] CFDT, “L’Europe active, utile et effi­cace”, 15 Decem­ber 2008, Com­mu­niqué de presse, avail­able at: (last access: 26 Feb­ru­ary 2009)
[35] Ges­tion inter­na­tionale de la crise finan­cière. Réponse du Min­istre des Affaires Etrangères et Européennes, M. Bernard Kouch­n­er, à une ques­tion d’actualité au Sénat, Paris, 30 Octo­ber 2008.
[36] L’Express, 17 Octo­ber 2008
[37] Le Point, 10 Octo­ber 2008.
[38] Inter­view, LCI, 08 Novem­ber 2008.