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With the entry into force of the Lisbon Treaty, the Council of the European Union “is obliged to meet in public when it deliberates and votes on European legislation”.
Good, it makes everyone’s jobs easier, except perhaps for Ministers and diplomats. But will it work? Doubtful.
As one journalist informed The Lobby, the breakfast meeting of one of this week’s Council meetings lasted until two in the afternoon!
Apparently, diplomats were stuck outside the negotiating room drinking coffee for hours, unable to follow the breakfast meeting via their usual listening room (adjacent to the negotiation room), as they no longer have this option under the new Treaty.
This was echoed by a Council official The Lobby spoke to earlier in the week, who stated when asked how negotiations during a certain Council were going, “I don’t even have access”.
This begs the question of whether Lisbon has taken us from closed sessions to eternal breakfasts and never-ending lunches – effectively turning these into closed sessions, out of sight of the web streaming cameras.
In the quest for more transparent decision-making, have we ended up with an even more opaque Council?
Some would clearly say yes. Others will just look at you with big open eyes and ask what you are on about?!
When sitting in Brussels and dealing with EU affairs, the Lisbon Treaty is a BIG thing because it gives more power to Brussels to make policies and legislation which will directly impact businesses and the lives of millions of people and, ultimately, move the EU cause forward, dare I say, positively.
But if you are a citizen sitting in your armchair, what would you be thinking?
“Oh god, more interference from Brussels, more power to those grey technocrats who will simply come up with more rules to bend or unbend my bananas, perhaps even change the natural orange colour of my carrots, or better still tell me where to place my electric plug in relation to my bidet – at least to those Europeans who know what they are supposed to be used for!”
If you are a businessperson sitting at your desk, you will be considering what new laws Brussels will come up with which will impact, and most probably, restrict the way you do my business, which means you will need to spend more time, resources and money representing and defending your interests when all you really want to do is go about doing your business!
And here lies the irony. In their wisdom, those who came up with the Lisbon Treaty, aka the Constitution, wanted to make a better Europe, one that would work more efficiently, that would conform to citizens’ wishes, one that would get the thumbs up from the Europeans. Yet, on the whole we Europeans do not understand what the EU is about. Only 47% turned up to elect the new Parliament – the institution with at least the same amount of power to that of the Member States, but the only one actually elected by the people – and in many instances the EU is an unknown quantity…sorry to say this, but this is the majority perception.
So, what should we make of all this? It comes down to communications from Brussels to the Member States, but also the buy-in from the Member States themselves – that is surely the greatest challenge. Our respective governments and parliaments have to become de facto EU allies, rather than partners in crime, but this will take a long time. The good news, however, is that we have plenty of it…after all the European Union, now for the first time a legal entity, is only 52 years old – “barely out of nappies” to some; “in the prime of life” to others.
While EU news is focussing on candidates for the new top jobs created by the Treaty of Lisbon, The Lobby goes back to basics and lists the seven things you should know about the upcoming President of the European Council.
- He will chair the European Council (aka European Summit) that becomes an official EU body with Lisbon. This body will gather all EU Heads of State or Government at least twice every six months – with the main task of giving a political direction to the EU.
- He will act as a supreme deal breaker in the horse-trading taking place when the EU’s top leaders discuss contentious issues and will have to ensure continuity when they establish the EU’s political priorities.
- He will not chair the Council (aka the Council of Ministers) meetings; hence the 6-month rotating Presidency system among Member States remains broadly unaffected, with the exception of the Foreign Affairs Council which will be chaired by the new High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy.
- He will be elected by Heads of State by qualified majority (though unanimity would be highly preferable) and will be in office for 2.5 years, renewable once.
- He will not replace the European Commission President, but will probably cast a shadow over him given the profile of the job, his official function of external representation of the EU, and the added complexity this brings to the EU structure.
- He will not have any voting rights in the European Council, and nor for that matter will the Commission President who is also a member of the body.
- He will not be the President of Europe, his functions will be merely administrative, and his actions will no doubt be restrained by the mandate he receives or doesn’t receive from the Heads of State.
Finally, it looks like he will not be a “she” bearing in mind the absence of women among the currently most plausible candidates. For his part, Jerzy Buzek, the President of the European Parliament, has called for the European Council to choose a woman ideally from an eastern European country.
As already mentioned by The Lobby in June (see Pirates could secure two seats in new European Parliament) the Swedish Pirate Party has secured another seat in the European Parliament following the ratification of the Lisbon Treaty.
Amelia Andersdotter, 22, is on her way to Brussels, thanks to the Lisbon Treaty, perhaps ironically, a Treaty she is personally not in favour of. But as she says herself in an interview with Swedish daily Dagens Nyheter, “if it now has to enter into force, it’s good that the Pirate Party gains another seat…[as] two people can perform double the amount of work” (free translation).
She effectively becomes the European Parliament’s youngest MEP.
Well done, say we at The Lobby!
The Lobby poll on the Irish referendum closed on Sunday, and you may (or may not be) pleased to know that our results were almost identical to that of the actual poll on the emerald isle.
For The Lobby poll, 66% voted yes to the Treaty, 31% no, and 3% would have spoilt their ballot paper.
In the official referendum, 67% said yes and 33% said no (presumably the other 1% spoilt their ballot paper – we cannot be sure).
Either way, if the Treaty needed any further bolstering it can look to our poll as representing an alternative voice of the people. Now what do you have to say about that Mr Klaus?
You may pride yourself on your intricate knowledge of the Lisbon Treaty. You may know little or nothing about it. Or you may not care.
Either way, The Lobby is holding its own mini-referendum on Lisbon and we are interested to see how our readers would vote. The difference is, of course, that our poll is not limited to Ireland, so perhaps this is the nearest thing we have to a truly pan-European referendum on the Lisbon Treaty. Click on this link to express your opinion – there is not a moment to lose!
Disclaimer: we cannot guarantee that a win for the yes vote in our referendum will ensure the Treaty’s smooth ratification, nor that a no vote will kill it off for good. It’s just a bit of fun – that’s all.
– Max, Rob and Emil
October 2nd. Mark it in your diaries, for this is the date when the Irish will ratify – or not – the Lisbon Treaty.
After rejecting it in a referendum in 2008, a volte face looks likely according to the latest polls published by the Sunday Business Post which put the yes vote at 62%, the no vote at 23%, with 15% undecided.
If Ireland votes yes, you can pretty much expect the Presidents of the Czech Republic and Poland to fall into line and sign off the Treaty, though not without some snide remarks and some well-practiced playing to the media – not to mention their own electorate – about how the big bad EU has forced their hand.
Assuming this all passes off without too much of a furore (actually quite a big assumption), it’s all systems go for 27 Commissioners, one for each Member State, not to mention a new High Representative for the Common Foreign and Security Policy and a new President of the European Council.
If Ireland votes no…..the fun and games really do begin. With the Nice Treaty stipulating that henceforth there should be fewer Commissioners than Member States, some countries will have to forego their Commissioner. So what if the Commission is meant to be neutral? National prestige still holds sway in Brussels, and any losers in this horse-trading will want to be handsomely recompensed.
Much has been made of the EU decision-making process breaking down should the Irish vote no, but there is no reason for this to happen as it seems to be working perfectly fine at the moment. Ireland as a country might be in the dock for a short while, accused of being a eurosceptic nation, but this is not necessarily true either – they’re just Lisbon Treaty-sceptic.
Wolfgang Münchau in the Financial Times describes himself as an unenthusiastic supporter of the Lisbon Treaty, and that’s probably what the Irish will turn out to be on 2nd October. But how to transform this defeatist attitude into a positive affirmation about the EU and everything it stands for? That’s the challenge now facing the European Commission and its recently re-elected President Barroso.
While the thermometer reads 37 degrees in Brussels, the political temperature in the European Parliament is set to rise with MEPs heading towards the end of the summer recess. While the rate of activity of the Parliament is still slow, The Lobby looks back to the allocation of top positions in the European Parliament and the subsequent changes within the largest national delegations.
At first glance, it may seem that France has lost influence, the Brits have managed to secure control of some important committees, and that Italy is the big winner. What strikes us most however is the dominance of the Germans.
To summarise: France has four chairs, but of these only the Budgets Committee could be said to be influential. Italians and Germans have five Chairs and the Brits three. Germans obtained the most influential posts, such as the Environment and the Industry Committees. The Brits will control heavyweight committees such as Economy and Monetary Affairs and the Internal Market. Italy obtained the prestigious post of Chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee and the Agriculture Committee, which will be responsible for the reform of the Common Agriculture Policy when/if the Lisbon Treaty will be adopted.
For the first time there will be no French MEPs among the fourteen Vice-Presidents of the European Parliament, who are responsible for laying down the institution’s rules – will this have an impact on the disputed future of the Strasbourg Parliament? Among the 14 Vice-Presidents, there will be three Germans, two Brits, and two Italians.
This picture would not be complete without looking at the coordinators of the main political groups, who play a key role in shaping opinions as they coordinate the work of their political groups within the different Committees. Among the coordinators appointed so far by the EPP and ALDE (we await the other groups), German MEPs are dominant, while the French are still lagging behind. Since they divorced from the EPP, British MEPs are expected to have a high number of coordinators in the new Conservative group (ECR), but their actual influence will depend on whether the new group will be able to become a forceful player in the new Parliament.
Looking at the largest political group (EPP), France has one MEP coordinating the group in the Economic & Monetary Affairs Committee and one as Vice-Coordinator in the Industry Committee. Italians will coordinate minor committees such as Fisheries and Culture and will have a Vice-Coordinator in the Environment Committee. What is striking again is that German EPP MEPs grabbed the positions of coordinator in three key committees: Environment, Internal Market and Agriculture. The situation is more balanced in the ALDE group, in which Sweden has a coordinating role in the Industry committee, France the Economic and Monetary Affairs Committee, and the UK the Environment Committee.
During the past legislature Germany and the UK had 27 and 23 MEPs respectively acting as coordinators in the Parliament, whereas France had just eight. The puzzle is not sufficiently complete for the moment to make comparisons as we wait for the S&D to appoint its coordinators in September. In addition, the appointment of future Rapporteurs will tell us how much influence the national delegations really have.
For the moment though, it seems the Germans are the clear winners of the horse-trading for key posts and have already secured a 2.5 year Presidency of the Parliament in the form of S&D President Martin Schulz as of mid-2011. But where are the French? Assessing French influence by looking only at these figures would be simplistic, but the facts show that the French are currently under-represented in the Parliament. The same is actually true in the Commission, where they have fewer Director Generals than the Germans or British. Is it just a lack of interest in the institutions, or is it part of a long-term strategy that seems content to leave the parliamentary positions to the other countries and claim in return more influential positions in the Commission? Are the French holding out for the President of the EU or the High Representative for Foreign Affairs, should Lisbon fully be ratified? All open questions…
It’s quiet. Too quiet. There are fewer buses. There are no queues at the sandwich joints on the Rue du Luxembourg. Tumbleweed can be seen blowing through the buildings of the European Parliament and the Berlaymont. You can walk over Rue Belliard against the red man because there is no traffic. The Indian takeaway across the road has gone on holiday – for six weeks!
If only everywhere was like this. When The Lobby goes to London this evening it will be met with the well-known hustle and bustle of a city that doesn’t so much sleep as one that never goes on holiday. In London August will be indistinguishable from September, which in turn will be the same as November, March, and June – and always has been and always will be.
Brussels, however, is different. It is as if the whole city has breathed its last and keeled over. The shops are still here. Some of the bars are still open. But the atmosphere, the hubbub, has left the building. Out of offices now spam my inbox. People are “not contactable”, have “no access to emails”, and ask you “in urgent matters” to contact their secretary (do secretaries never go on holiday?)
This year though the silence is masking what is still to come. Autumn will see the probable ratification of the Lisbon Treaty, set to fundamentally change how EU policy is agreed, and ushering in a new EU President and High Representative for Foreign Affairs. In the institutions, a new Commission will take to the boards on 1 November, and a new Parliament will get down to business and fight its corner in relation to its two rivals.
As if that wasn’t enough, December sees a historic climate change summit take place in Copenhagen which will – and must – decide on a successor to the Kyoto Protocol, whilst at the same time the EU economy continues to flounder, particularly in the east. Meanwhile, a new global order flexes its muscles as the BRICs (Brazil, Russia, India, China) begin to bang on the door of western hegemony.
Hard though it is to believe for those of us left in Brussels during these summer months, the EU finds itself on a precipice entirely of its own making. To jump? Or to retrace our steps? The next few months will dictate how the EU will look like in ten, twenty, nay fifty years time.
Meanwhile the sun is shining, the policy paper trail has momentarily subsided – so let’s step outside and enjoy it while it lasts.
You could almost bet on it… Following the German Constitutional Court issuing a landmark ruling in response to the Maastricht Treaty in 1993, today’s ruling on the Lisbon Treaty again testifies to the central role Karlsruhe – the seat of the Court – plays in EU matters when asked.
Whilst most attention was focusing on the second Irish referendum, Europe seemed to lose sight of the case that had been pending before the German Constitutional Court for many months. Indeed, it was often mistakenly reported that Germany had already ratified the Lisbon Treaty, but since the challenge against the German law transposing the Lisbon Treaty had been brought forward by a group of MPs and lawyers, President Köhler had announced his intention not to sign anything before Karlsruhe’s verdict on the matter.
Now what is this ruling all about? First, Köhler’s signature will have to be further postponed, effectively meaning that the ratification process in Germany is temporarily suspended. This is because laws that strengthen the participatory powers of the German legislature will have to come into force first.
The complainants have praised this judgement as a great success in their fight against the apparent erosion of the influence of the democratically elected German legislature on decisions made in Brussels. Now, it rests on this very legislature to pass the relevant legislation very rapidly if the Treaty is to be ratified in early 2010 at the latest. Just imagine what effect a delay would have on the second referendum in Ireland and the decisions in Poland and the Czech Republic!