Speaking last week about the European Union’s Treaty of Lisbon, José Manuel Barroso, the president of the EU Commission, described the process involving the preparation, negotiation and ratification of the treaty as a “marathon with hurdles.” On Tuesday, after the constitutional court of the Czech Republic dismissed a challenge to the treaty and President Vaclav Klaus, the last holdout, signed it, the EU finally crossed the finish line.
The process that produced Lisbon was indeed a marathon. It began eight years ago when the EU leaders created a Convention made up of representatives of the governments, national parliaments and EU institutions to consider how the EU should respond to three challenges: the democratic challenge — how to make it more open, transparent, accessible, responsive and legitimate for its citizens; the institutional challenge — how to adapt its institutions to function more effectively, especially once more than a dozen candidate countries entered; and the global challenge — how to enhance its capacity to play a more effective role as a regional and global actor.
The assembly produced an 800-page draft treaty establishing a constitution for Europe that was defeated in referendums in France and the Netherlands. After some uncertainty about what to do, the leaders agreed to downsize and revise the treaty in such a way that it would not have to be put to the voters. The result was the Treaty of Lisbon.
But one EU member — Ireland — was required by its constitution to hold a referendum, and in June 2008 Irish voters rejected the treaty. After the government obtained a commitment that nothing in Lisbon would alter Irish policies it was approved in a second referendum last month.
The final hurdle came from Klaus, who at the last minute demanded that the Czech Republic receive an opt-out from the EU’s Charter of Fundamental Rights so descendants of the ethnic Germans expelled from the Sudetenland after World War II could not use it to reclaim property. Needing his signature in order to complete the ratification process, the leaders gave him the opt out.
The treaty will take effect Dec. 1. Perhaps the most important innovation in it is the creation of a non-rotating presidency of the European Council and substantial expansion of the responsibilities of the High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy.
The president — who will be appointed for a two-year term, renewable once, and will replace in that Council the six-month rotating presidency — will chair that Council, prepare and “drive forward” its work, ensure continuity and cohesion within it, and represent it externally.
The High Representative will develop and conduct the EU’s common foreign and security policy and its common security and defense policy, chair the Foreign Affairs Council, which will translate the European Council’s strategic guidelines into policy and serve as a Vice President of the Commission in charge of external relations and related activities. He or she will also be in charge of a new external diplomatic service made up of personnel from the Commission, the Council, and the member states.
Media attention and speculation has focused primarily on the presidency. For some time, Tony Blair, the former British prime minister, was regarded as the front runner. But the fact that Britain is not in the euro-zone and not in the Schengen travel regime, plus Blair’s role in the war in Iraq, plus the aversion of the national leaders to having a high-profile, charismatic president has lead many of them to look for an alternative. It now appears the European Council will choose one of the Benelux prime ministers — Jean-Claude Juncker of Luxembourg, Jan-Peter Balkenende of the Netherlands, or the current favorite, Herman Van Rompuy of Belgium.
Despite the attention given the presidency, the High Representative may turn out to be more influential in the long run — especially if he or she has foreign policy experience and comes from a big member state. As of today, the odds-on favorite — assuming, of course, Blair is not the president — is David Miliband, the young and articulate British Foreign Secretary.
The European Council will meet soon — perhaps as early as next Thursday — to select its president and High Representative. The hope, of course, is that, with those two individuals, the EU will be better able to speak with one voice on important international issues and play a larger role in regional and global affairs. Will it? We’ll see.
David Cameron is a professor of political science and director of the Yale Program in European Union Studies.