Wednesday, May 07, 2008


Words on Wednesday...with Dr Diana Panke

Welcome to this week's edition of Words on Wednesday, a concept unique to the Irish blogosphere, which sees me interview various figures from all walks of political life. Taking my questions this week is Dr Diana Panke, a lecturer of European Studies at University College Dublin.

My thanks to Dr Panke for taking my questions on the Lisbon Treaty. So without further ado, let's begin...

You are a lecturer in European Politics at University College Dublin. Could you explain a bit about some of the subjects you deal with at the University?

I am teaching classes on European integration and European governance on the BA and the MA level as well as qualitative methods on the PhD level. The classes on the European Union introduce into or analyse into detail the basic structure of the EU, its main institutions (the European Parliament, the Council of Ministers, the European Commission, the European Court of Justice), policy-making procedures, policy areas as well as contemporary issues, such as citizenship, European elections, or European democracy.

As you know the country is preparing for the referendum on the Lisbon Treaty in a few weeks' time. I understand you are in favour of the Treaty. Why is that?

In a nutshell, the Lisbon Treaty considerably improves two shortcomings of the current European Union: Firstly, it introduces institutional reforms, allowing for effective and efficient policy-making in an enlarged Union with now 27 member states. Secondly, the Lisbon treaty brings more democracy to the European Union. For example, it increases the competencies of the European Parliament and also of national parliaments in the decision-making process.

The Lisbon Treaty is an institutional reform that adapts the European Union to the 21st century. With the end of the cold war, the EU became bigger. Today, the EU is no longer a club of six, twelve, or sixteen states, but encompasses 27 states. This increases the heterogeneity of interests at stake for every single European law. Yet, the decision-making procedures currently in place had been designed for a lower number of states than 27. In the worst case, this could lead to lengthy decision-making procedures or even to policy blockades – preventing the EU from reacting to and actively shaping of common market polices, the globalisation, environmental reforms. The Lisbon Treaty allows for smoother decision-making and ensures that the EU-27 can be as successful as the smaller EU had been for the last 50 years in fostering economic welfare, peace and democracy in Europe.

Equally important, the Lisbon Treaty democratises the European Union. It strengthens the roles of the European Parliament and national parliaments, introduces direct participation of European citizens, and strengthens the democratic ‘one man, one vote’ principle in the European Parliament and the Council of Ministers.

One of the worries about the Lisbon Treaty is that it is preparation for an eventual European Superstate. The Treaty itself in its preamble speaks of "reinforcing the European identity", "creating an ever closer union among the peoples of Europe" and resolves to "advance European integration". In view of this kind of language, would you agree that such worries are understandable?

Comparing the Lisbon Treaty with the Treaties after Amsterdam and Nice (the current EU), the EU would resemble far less a superstate model if the Lisbon Treaty is ratified. The Lisbon Treaty (Art. 50) allows member states to withdraw from the European Union for the first time. Thus, the Lisbon Treaty acknowledges that the EU is closer to a confederation of states rather than a European (federal) superstate.

From the very beginning of European Integration, the preamble of the Treaties had always paid tribune to the idea of its founding fathers that European Integration is a means to foster peace, democracy and welfare on the European continent/ its member states. In order to achieve this, politicians sought from the very beginning that institutions allowing for cooperation between states as well as successful market creating and regulating policies only partially do the job of fostering peace and democracy. Successful integration should be complemented by a feeling of belongingness of the peoples of Europe, so that they seek to cooperate also in difficult times instead of acting unilaterally and eventually waging war. Thus, the statements in the preamble of the Lisbon Treaty do not invent new directions of European Integration, but follow the path, which the EU had successfully taken on for the last 50 years.

Article 10.3. states that "Every citizen shall have the right to participate in the democratic life of the Union. Decisions shall be taken as openly and as closely as possible to the citizen." Is that not a pretty hollow statement however considering there is a reluctance to allow French and Dutch citizens a vote on the Treaty - when they rejected the EU Constitution - and a reluctance by Gordon Brown to give British citizens a referendum as they were promised?

Article 10 focuses on the day-to-day decision making of the European Union and has nothing to do with how Treaty reforms shall be ratified. The latter is entirely regulated by national constitutions and solely subject to domestic considerations. The European Union or its institutions cannot interfere into such essential affairs of its member states.

Transparency is important to hold politicians accountable for decisions, which is itself an important prerequisite of every democracy. The Lisbon treaty considerably increases the transparency of European policy-making, since there won’t be negotiations behind closed door anymore in the Council of Ministers. The European Union will in this respect become much more transparent than national governments, which usually negotiate with the exclusion of the public.

Probably my biggest concern about this Treaty is the qualified majority voting system. We're told that a qualified majority will be:

"55 % of the members of the Council, comprising at least fifteen of them and representing Member States comprising at least 65 % of the population of the Union. A blocking minority must include at least four Council members, failing which the qualified majority shall be deemed attained."

How could this possibly be of any benefit to the Irish people?

The Lisbon Treaty is an important step towards more democracy in the European Union. Democracy means that citizens are regarded as equal. Every citizen has the same amount of votes and all votes are weighted equally. The current Council of Ministers is not democratic since the interests of European citizens are unequally represented. Bigger member states have more votes than smaller member states. Yet, the amount of votes of each state is not proportional to its population. Smaller member states have more votes in proportion to their numbers of citizens, than bigger member states. In effect, this means that a the voice of a citizen of a small member state, such as Luxembourg or of Malta, is much more important than the same voice of a citizen of a big member states, such as Poland or France. This is not democratic, since it violates the ‘one citizen, one vote’ principle. The Lisbon Treaty does not completely solve this democratic deficit, but reduces the disproportionality between population size and votes in the Council of Ministers through the distribution of votes and the principle of double majorities. This is good for all people of Europe, because it strengthens democracy in the European Union. At the same time, the double majority principle requires that small and big states form coalitions in order to pass policies. It will not be possible for big states alone to make European laws against the will of small member states. This is good for small states, such as Ireland.

The Irish Daily Mail recently revealed a leaked memo from a civil servant in the Department of Foreign Affairs to a Diplomat in the British Embassy on the government's Yes campaign saying that the "aim is to focus the campaign on overall benefits of the EU rather than the Treaty itself." I find it quite disgraceful that there is an effort to block debate on the Treaty. What are your thoughts on the matter?

The point is that the Lisbon Treaty introduces, firstly, institutional reforms, making the EU fit for policy-making processes with 27 different states, and, secondly, democratic measures, increasing the possibilities of participation for citizens and parliaments. These reforms are of complex legal character. It takes more time and more effort to explain them to the Irish people (like to any other people) than policy reforms would, since it is much easier to communicate that the EU has competencies in policy field X, than to communicate what a double majority means. Personally, I think it is important to explain the current EU institutions to the public, explain the difficulties of policy making with 27 different cooks over the pan, and highlight than, how the Lisbon reform Treaty improves things. Yet, this takes effort on both sides: it requires that politicians are willing and have the time to explain things in detail, and also that the public is interested and willingness to invest time and energy to learn about the political system of the European Union.

I'm worried that this Treaty gives too much power to the European Council and that the European Parliament will have too little input. Article 36 states that:

"The High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy shall regularly consult the European Parliament on the main aspects and the basic choices of the common foreign and security policy and the common security and defence policy and inform it of how those policies evolve. He shall ensure that the views of the European Parliament are duly taken into consideration. Special representatives may be involved in briefing the European Parliament. The European Parliament may ask questions of the Council or make recommendations to it and to the High Representative..."

Does this Article not concern you as much as it does me?

The Lisbon Treaty strongly increases the competencies of the European Parliament. It might not be perfect from a parliamentary democratic point of view (which would ask for an even stronger role of the EP), but compared to the Nice Treaty (the EU as it currently stands), the role of the EP is immensely strengthened. Previously, the Common Foreign and Security Policy (called "the second pillar"), was purely intergovernmental, which means that neither the European Parliament nor the European Commission or the European Court of Justice had any competencies in this policy field.

Regarding the nation-states' member votes, Ireland has been granted just 7 votes whereas countries like the UK, France, Germany and Italy get 29 votes. Even the likes of Hungary and Bulgaria have more weight than ourselves as they have 10 votes each. Does Ireland become a political irrelevance through the Lisbon Treaty?

No, see my answer to question 6.

Ireland will not become political irrelevant through the Lisbon Treaty, nor will any of the other small member states. Under the new voting system in the Council of Ministers (double majority), it is impossible that the big states, such as the UK, Germany, France and Poland, solely determine the content of European policies. Every coalition needs small states on board as well.

In addition, the usual style of decision-making in the European Union is very consensual. In less than 10 percent of all European laws, member states actually voted in the Council of Ministers. In all other instances, decisions are taken by consensus, so that no country is outvoted. This is the usual practice in the European Union and prevents that decisions are taken against the explicit interests of a member state – regardless of whether it is big or small.

Some commentators have suggested that Ireland's standing within the EU will be hurt by a No vote to Lisbon. Personally I find suggestions like this to be simply scaremongering tactics. What do you think?

Whether Ireland’s standing will be affected is difficult to say.

I interviewed Kieran Allen some weeks back, a campaigner against the Lisbon Treaty and an editor of, and when speaking of those in support of the Treaty he said they "cannot, however, name one extra, specific legal right that the people of Ireland will get, which they do not currently enjoy". Can you do so?

This is not true. For example, Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty grants member states the right to leave the Union. There are also a series of more positive rights, such as direct democratic participation of European citizens, to name but a few.

Mr Allen also remarked that "Europe has shifted from being a zone of stability within the global order to one where millions of workers are fighting to defend gains they won in the past". What are your thoughts on that?

Again, I strongly disagree. Without the European Union, the economic development of EU member states would not have achieved such high levels. Yet, we are living in a changing world. Globalisation is a fact and cannot be prevented or ignored. With the globalisation, states are more directly affected by global competition, which, produces economic gains on the one hand, but also places the risk of loosing jobs to countries that can simply produce at lower costs. The European Union helps to mediate at least some of the effects of globalisation. The European Union belongs to the three big economic powers in the world (next to the US, and China) and can much more effectively influence standards for trade, labour, the environment and human rights than any of the EU member states could do for themselves.

What would a rejection of the Treaty by the Irish electorate mean for Ireland and the EU?

It would basically mean that the Irish and all other citizens of the European Union continue to live in the European Union as we know it today. A ‘no’ to the Lisbon Treaty does not mean that Ireland will no longer be a member of the EU. Rather, a ‘no’ stops the ratification process and the Lisbon Treaty cannot be adopted in any of the EU member states. Thus, we will all end up with a European Union that is less democratic and less effective than an EU after the adoption of the Lisbon Treaty. An Irish ‘no’ vote will prevent all peoples of Europe from exercising more democracy on the European Union. Also, the European Union will not become more effective, although we now have 27 instead of 16 member states.

If such a rejection occurs in June, do you believe the Irish government and the EU should respect the democratic wishes of the electorate and let the Treaty lie?

The Treaty as it is now formulated will definitely not be to put to another referendum just as it is. There are basically three options. Firstly, we could kept the EU in its current shape. This would neglect the fact that EU integration was so successful in the last 50 years, because the Europeans managed to adapt the EU to all the new challenges. With the end of the East-West conflict and the new independent Eastern European states, the EU underwent a process of considerable enlargement, which stabilises these new democracies, maintains peace and increases the welfare of all. It is questionable of whether the EU will be able to perform as good in the future (e.g. globalization) as it has in the past, if we stop it from adoption to new circumstances. A second option would be to carry the Lisbon treaty to grave and develop a completely new one. Such a completely new treaty should again address questions of how to make the EU more democratic and how to reform its decision-making procedures as to accommodate the heterogeneity arising form 27 different member states. Finally, Ireland and the EU member states could negotiate concessions for Ireland, change the Lisbon Treaty accordingly and start the ratification process again. Whether this would be fair to the peoples of other EU member states is a totally different question.

What would you say to anyone reading this right now who is unsure of where they stand on the Lisbon Treaty?

I would simply ask whether they want to keep the EU just as it is right now, or whether they want to live in a more democratic European Union, in which its citizens and their parliaments have greater powers to influence the future development of the EU and its policies. If someone is fine with the state of the Union, the Lisbon Treaty is not necessary, if someone seeks to gain a greater say in EU affairs, the Lisbon Treaty is a big step towards this direction.

Thank you for taking my questions Dr Panke. All the best.

This weekend I put some questions to RTE's Prime Time presenter Mark Little. Stay tuned to United Irelander for future interviews.

Previous interviews can be found here.


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