• Ratification of the Lisbon Treaty: How it is Playing Out in Different Countries

  • By José Cordon | 27 May 09
  • The current ratification process of the Lisbon Treaty is characterised by several key features.

    In France: First of all, there is the question of democracy. The day after the Parliament’s vote, Nicolas Sarkozy publicly declared that the condition for the acceptance of the new treaty by the other EU partners was that referendums should not take place, either in France or elsewhere. This fear of popular consultation is meant to confirm the reality of exclusion of citizens from deciding on European issues. The effect would be to widen the already existing gap between citizens and Europe, just when a legitimacy crisis is becoming an object of worry. We were unable to establish the referendum because of the conditions Sarkozy imposed, but the anti-democratic strategy could in the future be foiled on several very important issues. There was talk of a “mini-treaty”, but citizens soon understood that the new treaty preserves the main features of the Constitution rejected in the 2005 referendum. The supporters of the Treaty want it adopted without real debate. Under particularly difficult conditions, they could not prevent a mobilisation campaign from bringing up the question of democracy inherent in the referendum, which confronted parliamentarians and political forces with their responsibility. Thus the European debate has been kept alive, and it will be an important issue in the French presidency and in the European elections in 2009.

    On the other hand, there is the wish to hide the real content of the current treaty, in a straightforwardly liberalist and Atlanticist continuation of the former treaties, and – in opposition to this – the persistence of important social mobilisations, now also in new member countries of the EU, which make clearer the legitimacy crisis of the European construction process. However, this popular mistrust might fall prey to appropriation attempts by the populist right if we do not succeed in giving a direction to a project – a new founding treaty — involving a social, democratic, ecological and safety model, on a common European level, though being based on the real situations found at the national level.

    Taking into account these important commitments and especially the French presidency, the treaty ratification process is proceeding with a compulsory deadline at the end of 2008 for the 27 member countries. Six countries have already ratified the new treaty through their parliaments: Hungary, Slovenia, Romania, Malta, Bulgaria and France on February 7, 2008; only Ireland has chosen the referendum path because its constitution requires it to do so.

    In Portugal, Prime Minister José Socrates announced on January 9 that he was opting for parliamentary ratification, although in the case of the European Constitutional Treaty, he, and the Socialist Party, had been committed to a referendum. In spite of the support of a section of the right wing, this decision weakens his strength, because of very strong mobilisations against the government policy and against European policy (especially against “flexsecurity” and for the defence of the public sector). The main Union, the CGTP-IN, as well as the Portuguese Communist Party and the Left Block, asked for a referendum. The Communists initiated a large-scale campaign of education and mobilisation, which is to reach its high point in a few weeks to coincide with the debate in Parliament.

    In Ireland the centre-right government decided to hold the referendum in all likelihood in June. Despite strong pressure exerted by the government and the principal political forces within it, like the Labour Party that decreed that there will be no possibility of renegotiating the Treaty if it is rejected by the people, Sinn FÈin, the radical left (the Workers Party, the Irish Communist Party, and the extreme left), a part of the Greens, and some unions, as well as the pacifist movement, spoke out against the Treaty, and so did some sovereigntist movements and also, though for completely different reasons, the ultra-catholic fundamentalist forces.

    In the United Kingdom, after the decision of Prime Minister Gordon Brown not to submit the Lisbon Treaty to a referendum, Parliament started debating it after having, in a first move on March 4, rejected a motion of the Conservatives calling for a referendum (311 votes against; 29 Labour deputies voted for it as did nearly all the Conservatives; the Liberal Democrats, by their abstention, made possible the success of the Prime Minister’s motion to reject the referendum). Meanwhile, on March 12 the House of Commons, by a large majority, consented to ratification. The debate is continuing in the House of Lords. Gordon Brown is politically weakened, but the conservative right, even though it can rely on a majority in the public in favour of a referendum and against the Treaty, does not consider ratification a very important battle. Fundamentally, the Conservatives agree with the exemptions Brown was able to get, especially the non-application in the UK of the Charter of Fundamental Rights. After the rejection of the motion for a referendum, the situation has become more difficult for referendum supporters. Along with the Greens and left wing of the Labour Party questioning the social policies and the militarist excesses of the EU the extreme left and the pacifist movements remain mobilised against the Treaty.

    In the Netherlands the centre-left government announced on September 21 that in ratification of the new Treaty parliamentary procedure would be respected. Prime Minister Balkenende refers to a memorandum delivered by the State Council according to which the new Treaty would not derogate the Dutch Constitution and that therefore, unlike the case of the European Constitutional Treaty, no referendum was required. This decision, approved by the centrist parties and the Labour Party, which are in government, was called into question by the Socialist Party (SP) which introduced a motion to enable a referendum. For the SP it is unjustifiable not to consult public opinion, as the central content of the treaty rejected in 2005 is still a part of the new one. This bill is supported by the Greens and the social liberals (“Democrats 66”).

    In Denmark, the conservative Prime Minister Rasmussen, who just won the anticipated general elections, rejected the idea of a referendum. This decision was confirmed by the Danish parliament. The parliament’s decision, supported by the social-democratic opposition, is based on a memorandum issued by the Ministry of Justice to the effect that the new Treaty does not constitute a further ceding of sovereignty in respect to the former treaties. The Socialist People’s Party, whose support greatly increased in the last elections, and the Red-Green Alliance, which is losing support, opposed this decision in parliament, and so did the “Movement Against the EU” and the far right, which is part of the parliamentary majority but without participation in the Rasmussen government. The government decided to fast-track parliamentary ratification which is now to take place in April. The right even seems willing to make the most of its advantage and is announcing that it is ready to give up the exemptions which keep Denmark out of EU policy in the areas of monetary, defence, justice and immigration policy. A referendum could be organised at the end of 2008 if the Lisbon Treaty ratification goes through without complications.

    In Sweden, the right-wing government has decided, like the social democrats in the opposition, not to recommend a referendum as the way to ratify the Treaty. The Left Party, along with the Greens, is against the Treaty and in favour of a public ballot and so are sovereigntist movements like the June Movement, but with a different political purpose. The majority of public opinion is in favour of a referendum. The debate in Sweden is vulnerable to the pressure of the conservatives who are governing but dramatically sinking in public opinion, and who want to put the issue of the Euro on the agenda. The social question remains very present (as seen in the last judgments made by the European Court of Justice in the Laval-Vaxholm case). The debate in parliament will probably occur in early autumn. Sweden will assume the EU Presidency in the second semester of 2009 and will therefore participate in the coordination of the three presidencies (of France and the Czech Republic) succeeding one another starting in July 2008.

    In Finland, the centre right government, with the support of the conservatives, the Social Democratic Party and the Greens, should not have great difficulties in getting the Treaty ratified by parliament. Only the Left Alliance spoke out for a public ballot (and so did the Finnish Communist Party). Nevertheless, this must be followed by the debate on CFSC (Common Foreign and Security Policy). Finland’s neutrality is endangered by its special position within a European defence policy increasingly tied to NATO.

    In Poland, the debate on ratification just recommenced after the conservative right’s decision (Jaroslaw Kaczynski’s Party of Law and Justice), now in the opposition, to exert pressure on the law permitting the President of the Republic to ratify the Treaty. The right is demanding that Poland not exit from the protocol granted it when the EU Treaty was negotiated and which excluded Poland from partial application of the Charter of Fundamental Rights. If no compromise is found in Parliament, where a 3/5 majority is required for ratification, a new political crisis could occur, which might even require Donald Tusk’s government to hold a referendum. The parties of the radical left remain without great influence. The Polish Labour Party and the movements stemming from the former Union of Labour are against the Treaty on a non-sovereigntist basis.

    In the Czech Republic, ratification of the Treaty must be submitted to a preliminary examination undertaken by the Constitutional Board. The centre right government and the social-democratic opposition are in favour of the Treaty. The Communist Party of Bohemia-Moravia is the only party speaking out for a public ballot and against the Treaty. In this country, as in other East-European countries, we see the emergence of social mobilisations against government liberal policies.

    In the other East-European countries — Slovakia, the Baltic Countries (Estonia, Lithuania, Latvia), parliamentary ratification should not be a problem, as there are no significant left political forces opposing the Treaty, with the exception of the Slovakian Communist Party.

    In Germany, the constitution does not provide for ratification of treaties by referendum. The Bundestag initiated the debate on the ratification of the Treaty and the CDU-SPD coalition government hopes to complete it at the end of May. Die LINKE, relying on the public’s wish to be consulted, submitted to the Bundestag a bill allowing modification of the Constitution. Die LINKE also initiated a petition campaign to organise mass support for a required public ballot and real debate on the Treaty. In addition, Die LINKE is speaking out against the new treaty, as does a part of the social movements, questioning in particular the Treaty’s anti-social and militaristic features.

    In Italy, with the anticipated general elections called for April 13 and 14, the right and centre right parties, as well as Walter Veltroni’s Democratic Party, are favourable to the new treaty. The Italian Constitution does not allow a referendum. The Rainbow Left that incorporates Rifondazione Communista, the Party of Italian Communists, the Greens and the Democratic Left is divided on this issue. The debate on the Treaty, and the European politics involved in it, is absent from the electoral campaign. The Treaty will be ratified by the new parliament.

    In Spain, where a referendum on the former European Constitutional Treaty has been organised and won by the YES-supporters, the Lisbon Treaty will be ratified by parliament after the general elections won by the Socialist Party. The latter, along with the right, is favourable to the new treaty and despite the opposition of the United Left, the Communist Party of Spain, and the United Left and Alternative of Catalonia, European issues were absent from the electoral debate.

    In Greece, the right-wing caramanlis government won the anticipated general elections on September 16, 2007. But its majority is much narrower now. The right called for early elections in order to implement unpopular reforms (in particular of social protection and public services) which are, in any case, provoking major mobilisations in the country. The result is a very unstable political situation. In this context ratification of the Treaty will be submitted to parliament probably before summer 2008. The right and the socialist opposition PASOK are favourable to the Treaty. Synaspismos and the Communist Party of Greece are against it and demand that Greek citizens be consulted. Nevertheless, they are not cooperating with each other. The future of the Balkans is one of the most debated topics.

    In Cyprus, the debate on the treaty and its ratification will take the parliamentary route. The Constitution does not permit a referendum. An important presidential election took place on February 8, won by Demetris Christofias, chair of AKEL (Cyprus’s Communist Party). AKEL, the most powerful political force in the country and the only one against the Treaty, is going to demand a broad debate in the country, so that people can be informed and discuss the issue before Parliament decides.

    In Austria, Parliament will ratify, and probably do so before summer. The government, a coalition of Socialists and the right, is very favourable to the Treaty as are the Greens. Other minority forces, such as the Austrian Communist Party, which is working with a part of the social movement, are against the Treaty. They are calling for a public ballot and have initiated a petition for this purpose.

    In Belgium, the situation is very complicated due to the country’s political crisis. Normally, a simple majority in Parliament would be enough to ratify the Treaty, and the main political forces, the Christian-Democrats, the Liberals, the Socialists and the Greens are favourable to it. Nevertheless, the regional assemblies have to approve it as well, which in the context of nationalist tensions between the Flemings and the Walloons (above all in Flanders where the far-right is fanning the flame of partition) might complicate the debate. Personalities from the social movements, supported by the left and extreme left parties in the minority, such as the Communist Party, have called for a popular consultation.

    In Luxembourg, the centre-right government had opted for a referendum on ratification of the European Constitutional Treaty. This time, ratification will take place in Parliament. Among political forces, only “The Left” and the Luxembourg Communist Party are against the Treaty and are calling for a referendum.