from the December 18, 2007 Koinonia House eNews issue
It has been over two years since European voters rejected the EU Constitutional Treaty. In the wake of their defeat EU leaders tried to revive the constitution, but were unsuccessful. The people had spoken – or so it seemed. Today, the EU constitution is once again set to become the law of the land. However it is now being called the EU “reform treaty” and this time around its fate may not rest in the hands of the people.
The EU reform treaty, also called the Treaty of Lisbon, was signed last week on Thursday, December 13th. If all goes as planned the treaty will be ratified by member states next year and will enter into force on January 1, 2009. Yesterday, Hungary became the first EU nation to ratify the new treaty. Hungary’s parliamentary approved of the measure just days after it was signed.
The Treaty of Lisbon is essentially a repackaging of the EU constitutional treaty – critics say the bulk of the document remains unchanged. However because it is not technically a constitution, government leaders may be able to ratify the treaty without submitting it to national referendums. By taking away the people’s opportunity to vote on the treaty, it has a better chance of survival. According to Bertie Ahern, the Irish Prime Minister, the reform treaty is “90 percent the same” as the former constitutional treaty and that “the substance of what was agreed in 2004 has been retained. What is gone is the term ‘constitution’.”
For many Europeans the EU constitution represents a loss of sovereignty and national identity. Which is one of the primary reasons why voters rejected the constitution in the first place. However the bureaucrats in Brussels think they know best, and they aren’t afraid to admit it:
Valery Giscard D’Estaing, Chairman of the Convention which drew up the EU Constitution told reporters: “The difference between the original Constitution and the present Lisbon Treaty is one of approach, rather than content… The proposals in the original constitutional treaty are practically unchanged. They have simply been dispersed through the old treaties in the form of amendments. Why this subtle change? Above all, to head off any threat of referenda by avoiding any form of constitutional vocabulary.” He also said that “Public opinion will be led to adopt, without knowing it, the proposals that we dare not present to them directly…All the earlier proposals will be in the new text, but will be hidden and disguised in some way.”
José Manuel Barroso, President of the European Commission, has stated publicly: “Referendums make the process of approval of European treaties much more complicated and less predictable…I was in favor of a referendum as a prime minister, but it does make our lives with 27 member states in the EU much more difficult. If a referendum had to be held on the creation of the European Community or the introduction of the euro, do you think these would have passed?”
Like the constitutional treaty, the so-called reform treaty establishes a new permanent EU president and a new foreign policy chief. It also abolishes national vetoes in more than 50 areas, strengthens the powers of the European Parliament and European Commission, and gives the EU formal legal “personality” for the first time, enabling it to sign international treaties.
The document itself is enormous, almost 500 pages, that is supposed to streamline the government. Critics complain that the document is too long and too complex. It is written in highly technical legal jargon that has proved difficult even for experts to understand, much less the general public. According to Giuliano Amato, former Italian Prime Minister and Vice-Chairman of the Convention which drew up the EU Constitution, the treaty is confusing by design. He is quoted as saying: “They decided that the document should be unreadable. If it is unreadable, it is not constitutional, that was the sort of perception. Where they got this perception from is a mystery to me.”
Recently the European Commission also suggested merging EU embassies throughout the world. The new reform treaty already creates a European diplomatic service and a new post of EU foreign minister. According to EU leaders, merging the embassies is a natural next step in creating a stronger, more-centralized Europe.
The strategic geopolitical horizon of past half-century has been dominated by two superpowers: the United States and the USSR. But it is becoming clear that the two dominant powers of the next half-century apparently will be China in the east and the “new Europe” in the west. Europe’s economy has grown steadily in recent years and can boast of a GDP larger than the United States’. Former Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan made headlines in September when he said that the Euro could eventually take the place of the dollar as the world’s primary reserve currency. Also, earlier this year Europe eclipsed the US in stock market value for the first time since the first World War.
In March the EU celebrated the 50th anniversary of the Treaty of Rome. The historic agreement that established the European Economic Community, the foundation of what would eventually become the European Union. Over the last fifty years the European Union has emerged as a growing world power. The EU now encompasses more than 460 million people, stretching from the Arctic to the Mediterranean and east all the way to the Black Sea.