The treaty of discord

Czech Premier Jan Fischer and EU President Jose Manuel Barroso during a media conference in Brussels on October 13, 2009.

Czech Premier Jan Fischer and EU President Jose Manuel Barroso during a media conference in Brussels on October 13, 2009.

If there were a treaty to change the weather in Europe, especially in rain-sodden Brussels, there would be unanimity, jokes Geoffrey Meade, a journalist with the Press Association, the British news agency. Mr. Meade should know, having lived in the Belgian capital for over 28 years. However, he is not so confident about the Lisbon Treaty, aimed to revamp the European Union’s Constitution and give it an edge in world affairs. “One man is holding it up,” he says with unkindness evident in all his references to Czech President Vaclav Klaus who has refused to sign the Treaty.

The Lisbon Treaty is the result of eight years of reform debate since the Nice Treaty of 2001-2003. There is no mention of the Constitution, while there is continuity with the Constitutional Treaty and the main amendments reflect its content. The European Council will have a permanent President with a two-and-a-half-year mandate apart from a highly placed representative in charge of external relations. He or she will be assisted by a European External Action Service. Decisions in the Council of Ministers will be based on a majority basis instead of a consensus. There will be no reference to the European Constitution, no flag and no anthem.

The Lisbon Treaty, when it comes into force if Mr. Klaus agrees eventually, will give the EU the much needed edge in world affairs. In a sense, Mr. Meade puts rather dryly, it is just a change in the club rules. Even Ireland which initially opposed it has voted in favour of the Lisbon Treaty with 67 per cent in favour in a referendum to amend the Irish Constitution held on October 2. Even though the Czech Parliament has voted in favour, Mr. Klaus is opposing the European Charter of Fundamental Rights which will become binding once the Lisbon Treaty is approved. He is also hoping that the Conservatives will come to power in Britain and he will secure the support of Eurosceptics like David Cameron. However, according to the British newspaper Telegraph, Mr. Klaus says he will no longer wait for the U.K. elections. But he will have to wait for the verdict of the Czech Constitutional Court on the treaty’s compliance with the Czech Constitution. This is expected on October 27.

There is a consciousness that the countries of the EU are more visible and dynamic than the EU as a bloc. The U.K., Germany and France have major stakes in world affairs. But the EU as a conglomeration of European nations is upstaged by the U.S. in world affairs. Which is why the Lisbon Treaty assumes so much importance and Mr. Klaus’ bad boy image is growing by the day.

Albert Maes, Honorary Professor at the University of Namur and a former EU ambassador, says the Lisbon Treaty will take the unity of 27 sovereign nations forward and create a diplomatic representative of the EU. While the visibility of the EU will increase and there will be continuity, the inherent weaknesses will be there, he feels. The biggest problem in the EU is attaining a balance in policies, most of which are still left to individual nations to decide. The Lisbon Treaty could lead to a smoother functioning of the EU. And the scope for common policies will be marginally enhanced, apart from a pooling of sovereignties. The EU is a global leader in issues related to climate change, trade and development and it is looking for a stronger role on the political and strategic scene. A single President could help in that. A more crucial issue is the need for a focussed approach in South Asia, feels Shada Islam, senior programme executive, European Policy Centre. After the Lisbon Treaty, things may improve with a single Foreign Minister. The EU’s role in Afghanistan raises many questions, she adds, and there is confusion over this mission. A stronger foreign affairs leader could change things.

India is not the only country that has an “on paper” strategic partnership with the EU, she points out. There is a real lack of dialogue and India and the EU face the prospect of being sidelined by the U.S. and China in the new world order.

The Joint Action Plan and Strategic Partnership with India needs a lease of life and it is time to move way from rhetoric and summits. Can the Lisbon Treaty pave the way for these changes? Only time — and perhaps President Klaus — can tell.

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