Tuesday 15 July 2008

We keep our Commissioner and Revote

The following is my translation of an article in today's Le Monde about proposals to get another Irish referendum. It is quite interesting in the kind of manoevering it reveals and also there is an interesting little comment at the end about the way the commission is evolving into something less than desireable. The article was written by Arnaud Leparmentier

The reform of the European Commission is to be sacrificed on the altar of the Irish No to the Lisbon Treaty. It’s the likely direction for Europe, as Nicolas Sarkozy, incumbent president of the EU, meets the Irish prime minister, Brian Cowen in Dublin on Monday the 21st July.

For some weeks now, the experts have been seeking an avenue to secure and Irish revote after the No on the 12th June. The aim is to modify the text, without legal implications, to assure the Irish that their vote has been taken into account: it is out of the question to start the negotiations on a new treaty from scratch and to restart the ratification process in 27 other (sic) countries.

By careful rereading the legal experts have found a single avenue: the commission, even if it wasn’t central to the referendum campaign. As the No camp pointed out, the Irish will lose, like everyone else, their automatic right to appoint a commissioner in Brussels. The Nice Treaty, currently in effect, provides for a reduction of the number of commissioners once the total number reaches 27. That applies from 2009.

The Lisbon Treaty, however, offers an escape route: the reduction is postponed until 2014. Moreover, the treaty provides that the commission be composed of a number equal to two thirds the number of member states in the EU “unless the European Council unanimously agrees to modify this number

The latter provides the margin for manoevre: the 27 can decide that the Commission will continue to be composed of one commissioner per country. The Irish will have the choice to make: it’s Lisbon and keep the Commissioner, or Nice will apply.

The Commission is Overcrowded

The No camp have always indicated they would oppose this kind of concession. To make the package more attractive, it is envisaged to issue a new declaration of the European Council which will restate the guarantees already given to Ireland in the entirety of the treaties: assurance that the EU will not be inolved in abortion, given in Maastricht in 1991; a guarantee of Irish neutrality, re-iterated as it happens after the first Irish No in 2001 to the treaty of Nice; a guarantee that fiscal matters will remain under unanimity.

These proposals could be debated at the Council in October and adopted in December. The Irish could therefore run another referendum, on the same day as the European elections in 2009 at the latest.

The Commission would be weakened by this compromise. It has now become overcrowded, especially since the commission president, José Manuel Barroso, has made “legislate less”* his motto. The commissioners have reduced responsibility, sometimes of a derisory nature, and less than those of the directors general over whom they have authority.

These measures, combined with the centralised management of Mr. Barroso, have eroded the special nature of the commission: the collegial character of its decisions. Gradually the commission is becoming a secretariat of the European Council of ministers, beset by haggling among nations instead of seeking a European optimum.

* Barroso adopted the theme "Légiférer moins pour légiférer mieux (Legislate less to legislate better)"

1 comment:

Póló said...

There is also an interesting article Le Monde article here which lists some of the French "gaffes" regarding the Irish and Lisbon and also points out that Sarkozy has little patience with, and little time for, the smaller countries in the Union.

Dick Roche will be pleased to note that the article promotes him to the post of Foreign Minister.

That all said, your article above is well worth the attention that hopefully your translation will bring to it.

If the Commission is developing in the way it suggests, this will undermine the whole structure of the EU (the delicate "separation of powers" and the special mission of the Commission) and you will then have to wonder to what extent it remains in the interest of the smaller countries to continue membership. The Commission itself is always in danger of falling victim to arrogance and the Irish campaign has shown this disease to be advancing rapidly.

Nice to read a sane, balanced and informed blog on these matters. Keep it up.