Friday, December 12, 2008

Lisbon Treaty Redux

The Irish are now remounting an attempt to pass the proposed EU constitution by popular referendum. The first one failed in June 2008. Ireland's notorious flat tax, their abortion ban and their military neutrality were contributing concerns to the last failed referendum.

But of course this is a much larger issue. Every democracy must bear a wearisome bureaucracy. Citizens often find the bureaucracy intrusive, unjust, and impersonal. Just imagine the hostility towards a bureaucracy of bureaucracies, that is, an empowered EU federal government.

The Lisbon Treaty has proposed a reformed European constitution but is far from close to seeing it ratified by all 27 of the EU’s member states. Failing in one state means no constitution anywhere. The first draft, penned by eminent French statesman ValĂ©ry Giscard d'Estaing, was rejected by France and the Netherlands in 2005.

“Euroskepticism,” the reluctance to grant more power to the EU, is animated by any number of concerns. Small countries point to the disproportionate power wielded by larger countries: EU member states send anywhere from 6 to 96 MEPs (Members of European Parliament) to Brussels. Euroskeptics have also criticized the expansion of the law-drafting powers of the unelected European Commission.

The Lisbon Treaty would streamline the EU as a decision-making body. Its proposed constitution is a major step towards European unification. Representatives of the EU's 27 member nations signed the agreement in December 2007, but it was only ratified in 18 member states, and of those, only three approved it by referendum rather than parliamentary vote (Spain, Luxembourg, and Romania).

Europe of course has a strong allergic reaction to utopian thinking or final solutions, and so will hem and haw about a stronger EU for a long time. They are far less likely than Americans to be rallied by optimistic rhetoric, and even if the Lisbon Treaty passes, unification will remain a far off dream.