Jury still out on Lisbon

The pro­vi­sions of the Lis­bon Treaty are prob­a­bly more famil­iar to the weary vot­ers of Ire­land than to any oth­er cit­i­zens in Europe. Although two hard-fought ref­er­en­dum cam­paigns saw every­thing from abor­tion to mil­i­tary con­scrip­tion to unem­ploy­ment being deployed as polit­i­cal weapons and dis­trac­tions, the core inno­va­tions of the treaty did get a fair air­ing and are rel­a­tive­ly well under­stood. Less well under­stood is how exact­ly these inno­va­tions will play out in prac­tice. The work of Pres­i­dent of the Euro­pean Coun­cil Her­man Van Rompuy, for exam­ple, is watched with inter­est in Ire­land but, in the con­text of a land­scape of Euro­pean polit­i­cal lead­er­ship that remains clut­tered and con­test­ed, a con­sen­sus as to the skill with which he is car­ry­ing out his duties has yet to be reached.

A sim­i­lar ben­e­fit of doubt extends to Cather­ine Ash­ton in her new role as High Rep­re­sen­ta­tive of the Union for For­eign Affairs and Secu­ri­ty Pol­i­cy. To the degree that the EU’s Com­mon For­eign and Secu­ri­ty Pol­i­cy (CFSP) is a benign and pro­gres­sive one, Ire­land is keen that it projects it as effec­tive­ly as pos­si­bly and there­fore wel­comes any ini­tia­tive that helps Europe express its pri­or­i­ties more clear­ly on the world stage. While there are – aris­ing out of Ireland’s tra­di­tion of mil­i­tary neu­tral­i­ty – cer­tain con­cerns relat­ing to Euro­pean coop­er­a­tion in the defence are­na, these were to a large extent allayed by the spe­cif­ic guar­an­tees sought and secured by the Irish gov­ern­ment ahead of the sec­ond ref­er­en­dum on the Lis­bon Treaty.11See for exam­ple: Insti­tute of Inter­na­tion­al and Euro­pean Affairs: Lis­bon: The Irish Guar­an­tees Explained, avail­able at: http://www.iiea.com/publications/lisbon-the-irish-guarantees-explained (last access: 10 May 2010).

With regard to Cather­ine Ashton’s rela­tions with the Euro­pean Coun­cil, Ire­land will be hop­ing in par­tic­u­lar that she enjoys good rela­tions with the incom­ing British gov­ern­ment. A good work­ing rela­tion­ship between the UK and its EU part­ners is impor­tant for all mem­ber states but espe­cial­ly so for its near­est island neigh­bour. The geo­graph­ic, eco­nom­ic and his­toric ties between Ire­land and the UK are such that an active­ly Euroscep­tic Britain could have pro­found and detri­men­tal effects on the Irish nation­al inter­est. One Irish hope would be that the work of Cather­ine Ash­ton might act to adver­tise and nor­malise the Euro­pean Union to a scep­ti­cal British press and pop­u­la­tion.

Arti­cle 21 of the Treaty on Euro­pean Union in the con­sol­i­dat­ed ver­sion of the Lis­bon Treaty com­mits the EU’s inter­na­tion­al affairs to be guid­ed by the prin­ci­ples of “democ­ra­cy, the rule of law, the uni­ver­sal­i­ty and indi­vis­i­bil­i­ty of human rights and fun­da­men­tal free­doms, respect for human dig­ni­ty, the prin­ci­ples of equal­i­ty and sol­i­dar­i­ty, and respect for the prin­ci­ples of the Unit­ed Nations Char­ter and inter­na­tion­al law.” Ire­land will be sup­port­ive of poli­cies which fur­ther such prin­ci­ples. How­ev­er, the Min­is­ter for For­eign Affairs, Micheál Mar­tin, empha­sis­es the dec­la­ra­tion attached to the treaty which makes clear that its CFSP pro­vi­sions do not affect the exist­ing respon­si­bil­i­ties of mem­ber states for the for­mu­la­tion and con­duct of their dis­tinc­tive for­eign pol­i­cy.22KildareStreet.com: Dáil writ­ten answers: Tues­day, 30 March 2010. Depart­ment of For­eign Affairs: Diplo­mat­ic Rep­re­sen­ta­tion, avail­able at: http://www.kildarestreet.com/wrans/?id=2010–03-30.688.0&s=catherine+ashton#g690.0.r (last access: 10 May 2010). As a small, neu­tral state, this is a cru­cial area of sen­si­tiv­i­ty for Ire­land and the preser­va­tion of these assur­ances will be watched for care­ful­ly. Giv­en the nature of EU mis­sions as defined by the Peters­burg tasks and the pre­dom­i­nance of civ­il over mil­i­tary mis­sions, Ire­land has, to date, been able to play a full role in respect of its treaty com­mit­ments (for exam­ple, an Irish com­man­der, Pat Nash, led the recent EUFOR mis­sion to Chad on the ground).

As to the issue of the Euro­pean Exter­nal Action Ser­vice (EEAS), the gov­ern­ment posi­tion, at a time of great con­straint on state resources, is that the EEAS will pro­vide an oppor­tu­ni­ty to lever­age Irish diplo­ma­cy both in the Euro­pean con­text and in the inter­na­tion­al are­na. The Min­is­ter for For­eign Affairs is of the opin­ion that “there will be a real ben­e­fit to the State through the expe­ri­ence gained by the rota­tion of Irish offi­cials between the EEAS and the Irish diplo­mat­ic ser­vice.”33KildareStreet.com: Dáil writ­ten answers: Thurs­day, 1 April 2010. Depart­ment of For­eign Affairs: Euro­pean Exter­nal Action Ser­vice, avail­able at: http://www.kildarestreet.com/wrans/?id=2010–04-01.1162.0 (last access: 10 May 2010). Spec­u­la­tion as to the appoint­ment of Irish diplo­mats and Com­mis­sion offi­cials to key posi­tions in the new ser­vice has already begun.44Report­ed in The Sun­day Busi­ness Post, avail­able at: http://www.sbpost.ie/news/ireland/irish-diplomats-tipped-for-ec-jobs-49132.html (last access: 10 May 2010). If there are con­cerns over the EEAS in the nation­al debate, they relate to the dan­ger of Ire­land los­ing its dis­tinc­tive nation­al voice over­seas.

Ire­land per­formed strong­ly when it last held the rotat­ing coun­cil pres­i­den­cy in 2004, tak­ing advan­tage of the lever­age that the pre­vi­ous sys­tem afford­ed small coun­tries with the capac­i­ty to act strate­gi­cal­ly. Ire­land will next host the pres­i­den­cy in ear­ly 2013 as the first in a trio which includes Lithua­nia and Greece. Irish observers will be watch­ing the inter­ven­ing pres­i­den­cies close­ly to learn how to oper­ate most effec­tive­ly under the new regime.

One issue that has been raised in the domes­tic debate is the new dynam­ics of meet­ings of the Euro­pean Coun­cil under the Lis­bon Treaty. Pre­vi­ous­ly, these meet­ings were between the heads of state and gov­ern­ment and their for­eign min­is­ters. Now, just the heads of state and gov­ern­ment meet, although they can decide to be accom­pa­nied by a min­is­ter. There is a con­cern, which has been expressed in the UK also,55See for exam­ple: House of Com­mons: For­eign Affairs Com­mit­tee Tran­script, avail­able at: http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm200910/cmselect/cmfaff/c144‑i/c14402.htm (last access: 10 May 2010). that remov­ing for­eign min­is­ters from the Euro­pean Coun­cil net­work might lead to a shift in for­eign pol­i­cy mak­ing from For­eign Affairs depart­ments to Prime Min­is­te­r­i­al ones. In a polit­i­cal sys­tem such as Ireland’s which tends towards a coali­tion gov­ern­ment, one could antic­i­pate ten­sions aris­ing in a future coali­tion in which the two depart­ments were head­ed by min­is­ters from dif­fer­ent par­ties.

The issue of the demo­c­ra­t­ic legit­i­ma­cy of the Euro­pean Union, although promi­nent in the nation­al debate over the Lis­bon Treaty, is not as big a con­cern among the large­ly pro-Euro­pean Irish elec­torate as it is among more Euroscep­tic pop­u­la­tions such as those of the UK, France or the Nether­lands. It is also wide­ly under­stood that the Lis­bon Treaty con­tains many appar­ent reme­dies to the EU’s “demo­c­ra­t­ic deficit”, includ­ing a strength­ened Euro­pean Par­lia­ment, a big­ger role for nation­al par­lia­ments in leg­isla­tive scruti­ny, and a new Euro­pean Cit­i­zens’ Ini­tia­tive (ECI).

Inso­far as the ECI empow­ers cit­i­zens and increas­es democ­ra­cy in the Union, it will be wel­comed by Irish peo­ple and their elect­ed rep­re­sen­ta­tives. How­ev­er, con­cern is like­ly to be expressed at any Com­mis­sion attempt to neuter the ini­tia­tive by set­ting high bar­ri­ers to par­tic­i­pa­tion or by strin­gent­ly fil­ter­ing the peti­tions through mech­a­nisms such as the “admis­si­bil­i­ty check” recent­ly dis­cussed by Vice-Pres­i­dent of the Euro­pean Com­mis­sion Maroš Šefčovič.66Report­ed by Eurac­tiv: EU com­mis­sion­er vows to block ‘sil­ly’ peti­tions, 6 May 2010, avail­able at: http://www.euractiv.com/en/future-eu/eu-commissioner-vows-block-silly-petitions-news-493794 (last access: 10 May 2010).

The oppo­si­tion Labour Party’s spokesman on Europe, Joe Costel­lo, notes that, although there are a host of thorny issues to be resolved before the ini­tia­tive is up and run­ning, there has been “pre­cious lit­tle pub­lic debate” in Ire­land so far.77Joe Costel­lo: Issues around EU cit­i­zens’ ini­tia­tive should be tack­led, Irish Times, 2 Feb­ru­ary 2010, avail­able at: http://www.irishtimes.com/newspaper/opinion/2010/0202/1224263579088.html (last access: 19 May 2010). The Oireach­tas (Irish Par­lia­ment) Joint Com­mit­tee on Euro­pean Affairs has pub­lished a report on the ECI in which it express­es its sup­port, say­ing that the ini­tia­tive “has the poten­tial to cre­ate a real pub­lic space with­in the Euro­pean Union and con­tribute to bridg­ing the so-called ‘demo­c­ra­t­ic deficit’”.88Oireach­tas Joint Com­mit­tee on Euro­pean Affairs EU Scruti­ny Report No. 6, avail­able at: http://euaffairs.ie/publications/6th-Scrutiny-Report.pdf (last access: 9 June 2010).But, as a mem­ber of the oppo­si­tion Fine Gael par­ty, Lucin­da Creighton, said in this con­text in the Oireach­tas recent­ly: “It is impor­tant that the Euro­pean Union is seen to deliv­er on com­mit­ments made to the peo­ple, par­tic­u­lar­ly in Ire­land giv­en that we held a ref­er­en­dum. Those com­mit­ments must be tan­gi­ble and deliv­ered.”99Dáil debates: Wednes­day, 31 March 2010. Euro­pean Coun­cil Meet­ing: State­ments, avail­able at: http://www.kildarestreet.com/debate/?id=2010–03-31.300.0 (last access: 10 May 2010).

In respect of demon­strat­ing the integri­ty of Euro­pean democ­ra­cy, the Irish gov­ern­ment must also deliv­er on its own com­mit­ments. A revised pro­gramme for gov­ern­ment, agreed in Octo­ber in the wake of the sec­ond Lis­bon ref­er­en­dum, con­tained an express com­mit­ment to push for the ear­ly adop­tion of leg­is­la­tion to estab­lish the ECI.1010Green Par­ty: Renewed Pro­gramme for Gov­ern­ment, 10 Octo­ber 2009, avail­able at: http://www.greenparty.ie/en/government/renewed_programme_for_government/renewed_programme_for_government_pdf_format (last access: 10 May 2010). The Irish gov­ern­ment, at a time of wide­spread pub­lic dis­il­lu­sion­ment and anger at the polit­i­cal estab­lish­ment, will be keen to help get this one right. If the mech­a­nism does not pro­vide a prop­er vehi­cle for demo­c­ra­t­ic expres­sion, it will be ridiculed. But if appro­pri­ate safe­guards are not put in place, a cas­cade of pop­ulist, or even extrem­ist, peti­tions might ensue, with dam­ag­ing effects on the rep­u­ta­tion of both the gov­ern­ment and the EU.

The revised pro­gramme for gov­ern­ment also com­mit­ted to ensur­ing that the Oireach­tas more close­ly engages with Euro­pean insti­tu­tions and affairs. To that end, an Oireach­tas Sub-Com­mit­tee on the Review of the Role of the Oireach­tas in Euro­pean Affairs is exam­in­ing how the par­lia­ment can best use the new pow­ers and enti­tle­ments grant­ed to it under the Lis­bon Treaty. It will be issu­ing its report in the com­ing weeks. Its find­ings are like­ly to lead to a sig­nif­i­cant revi­sion of the way in which the par­lia­ment deals with EU mat­ters, includ­ing but not lim­it­ed to par­lia­men­tary scruti­ny of leg­is­la­tion ema­nat­ing from Brus­sels.1111Sub-Com­mit­tee on Review of the Role of the Oireach­tas in Euro­pean Affairs Home Page, avail­able at: http://www.oireachtas.ie/viewdoc.asp?DocID=14847 (last access: 10 May 2010). A num­ber of civ­il soci­ety and pro­fes­sion­al organ­i­sa­tions, includ­ing the Law Soci­ety of Ire­land and the Irish Soci­ety for Euro­pean Law, are cur­rent­ly con­duct­ing research in this area. Gavin Bar­rett of Uni­ver­si­ty Col­lege Dublin argues that Ireland’s fail­ure in the past to address ade­quate­ly mat­ters of demo­c­ra­t­ic account­abil­i­ty means that it has more ground to make up than oth­er mem­ber states in this area.1212Gavin Bar­rett: Review­ing the Role of the Oireach­tas in Euro­pean Affairs, avail­able at: http://www.iiea.com/publications/reviewing-the-role-of-the-oireachtas-in-european-affairs (last access: 19 May 2010).

    Footnotes

  • 1See for exam­ple: Insti­tute of Inter­na­tion­al and Euro­pean Affairs: Lis­bon: The Irish Guar­an­tees Explained, avail­able at: http://www.iiea.com/publications/lisbon-the-irish-guarantees-explained (last access: 10 May 2010).
  • 2KildareStreet.com: Dáil writ­ten answers: Tues­day, 30 March 2010. Depart­ment of For­eign Affairs: Diplo­mat­ic Rep­re­sen­ta­tion, avail­able at: http://www.kildarestreet.com/wrans/?id=2010–03-30.688.0&s=catherine+ashton#g690.0.r (last access: 10 May 2010).
  • 3KildareStreet.com: Dáil writ­ten answers: Thurs­day, 1 April 2010. Depart­ment of For­eign Affairs: Euro­pean Exter­nal Action Ser­vice, avail­able at: http://www.kildarestreet.com/wrans/?id=2010–04-01.1162.0 (last access: 10 May 2010).
  • 4Report­ed in The Sun­day Busi­ness Post, avail­able at: http://www.sbpost.ie/news/ireland/irish-diplomats-tipped-for-ec-jobs-49132.html (last access: 10 May 2010).
  • 5See for exam­ple: House of Com­mons: For­eign Affairs Com­mit­tee Tran­script, avail­able at: http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm200910/cmselect/cmfaff/c144‑i/c14402.htm (last access: 10 May 2010).
  • 6Report­ed by Eurac­tiv: EU com­mis­sion­er vows to block ‘sil­ly’ peti­tions, 6 May 2010, avail­able at: http://www.euractiv.com/en/future-eu/eu-commissioner-vows-block-silly-petitions-news-493794 (last access: 10 May 2010).
  • 7Joe Costel­lo: Issues around EU cit­i­zens’ ini­tia­tive should be tack­led, Irish Times, 2 Feb­ru­ary 2010, avail­able at: http://www.irishtimes.com/newspaper/opinion/2010/0202/1224263579088.html (last access: 19 May 2010).
  • 8Oireach­tas Joint Com­mit­tee on Euro­pean Affairs EU Scruti­ny Report No. 6, avail­able at: http://euaffairs.ie/publications/6th-Scrutiny-Report.pdf (last access: 9 June 2010).
  • 9Dáil debates: Wednes­day, 31 March 2010. Euro­pean Coun­cil Meet­ing: State­ments, avail­able at: http://www.kildarestreet.com/debate/?id=2010–03-31.300.0 (last access: 10 May 2010).
  • 10Green Par­ty: Renewed Pro­gramme for Gov­ern­ment, 10 Octo­ber 2009, avail­able at: http://www.greenparty.ie/en/government/renewed_programme_for_government/renewed_programme_for_government_pdf_format (last access: 10 May 2010).
  • 11Sub-Com­mit­tee on Review of the Role of the Oireach­tas in Euro­pean Affairs Home Page, avail­able at: http://www.oireachtas.ie/viewdoc.asp?DocID=14847 (last access: 10 May 2010).
  • 12Gavin Bar­rett: Review­ing the Role of the Oireach­tas in Euro­pean Affairs, avail­able at: http://www.iiea.com/publications/reviewing-the-role-of-the-oireachtas-in-european-affairs (last access: 19 May 2010).

The reports focus on a report­ing peri­od from Decem­ber 2009 until May 2010. This sur­vey was con­duct­ed on the basis of a ques­tion­naire that has been elab­o­rat­ed in March and April 2010. Most of the 31 reports were deliv­ered in May 2010.

The EU-27 Watch No. 9 receives sig­nif­i­cant fund­ing from the Otto Wolff-Foun­da­tion, Cologne, in the frame­work of the ‘Dia­log Europa der Otto Wolff-Stiftung’, and finan­cial sup­port from the Euro­pean Com­mis­sion. The Euro­pean Com­mis­sion is not respon­si­ble for any use that may be made of the infor­ma­tion con­tained there­in.