Gavan Reilly's Portfolio writings, ramblings, mumblings

The Lisbon Treaty in three hours, or, How Not to Read Laws

I tried to write a colour piece for the next issue reading the entirety of the consolidated treaties on European Union, as amended by the Lisbon Treaty.

I failed, in an abject pile of misery, but hereby post my attempt, as a warning to those who may heed it.

As another noted European federalist, Otto van Bismarck, once said: “Laws are like sausages. It’s better not to see them being made.”

Open the PDF containing the treaties-to-be – instead of reading about the changes Lisbon would make, Shudder to see the document extending to 479 pages. Wonder if I should abandon the idea altogether and ask the Editor if she’ll consider accepting 500 words on something less barbarian, like why the EU flag should have orange stars on green, or how the euro has made shopping online (and running up enormous credit card debt) easier than failing an advanced module in astrophysics.

Heartened to discover that the first seventeen pages are merely contents, and that the real content – a preamble – is padded out by naming the full title of each member state. I notice that the member states declare a desire “to establish a citizenship common to nationals of their countries” and wonder what implications that’s meant to have. Ireland, at the fringes of Europe, has a much different view of ‘Europeanism’ than those who live twenty minutes’ drive from another culture or language. Isn’t the notion of a ‘nation’ meant to be that we share common beliefs and goals? Perhaps I’m reading too much into it, and that the only implication is having to pay another €80 for a second passport.

Article 3: The Union’s basic aim. “To promote peace, its values and the well-being of its peoples.” I look at the values: “respect for human dignity, freedom, democracy, equality, the rule of law and respect for human rights, including the rights of persons belonging to minorities.” Seems fair enough – what’s not to like?

I decide that this will be easier to finish if I put on the most epic classical music I can find. ‘Jupiter’ from Holst’s Planets should do the trick.

“In its relations with the wider world, the Union shall uphold and promote its values and interests and contribute to the protection of its citizens.” One of Lisbon’s most controversial aspects is the appointment of a full-time ‘High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy’, apparently in response to Henry Kissinger’s famous quip, “Who do I call if I want to call Europe?” I wonder if anyone has ever posed the same question for Asia or Africa – or, indeed, for South America. Why would anyone want to ask a continent for its opinion? America would be upset if someone called Canada looking for the North American stance on an international hot topic, so why should European countries be treated any differently? The problem with Kissinger’s question isn’t the lack of an answer; it’s the absurdity of the question itself. Having a spokesperson on behalf of a group of countries as wildly diverse as Europe’s seems, in this light, to be a little too authoritative.
My worries are not at all placated by Article 8: “The Union shall develop a special relationship with neighbouring countries.” The hypocrisy of some residents’ groups in not seeking residents’ input springs to mind.


Abounded by caffeine, I get back at it. “The institutions shall, by appropriate means, give citizens and representative associations the opportunity to make known and publicly exchange their views in all areas of Union action”, says Article 11. No problem there – the issue with Europe is that it’s predominantly run by unelected people. But, then again, so are our own Departments here.

I then meet the new rule about public petitions: “Not less than one million citizens who are nationals of a significant number of Member States may take the initiative of inviting the European Commission, within the framework of its powers, to submit any appropriate proposal on matters where citizens consider that a legal act of the Union is required for the purpose of implementing the Treaties.” This seems to go against the public statements of pro-Lisbon groups, who are commending this concept on the basis that ordinary citizens can now petition the Union to act on matters apparently of their own choosing, when in reality they can only direct the Union on how best to enact the powers it already has.

Having been distracted by other more important duties – that cupcake wasn’t going to eat itself – I return and meet a paragraph outlining the roles of national parliaments. This is a welcome inclusion; previously the national parliament had no major input in overseeing legislation that ultimately supersedes its own.

The treaty outlines the organs of the Union and the role of President of the European Council. This person shall, apparently, “ensure the external representation of the Union on issues concerning its common foreign and security policy”. Again, Kissinger dictates policy, it seems.
The pages that follow are largely hollow and devoid of much controversy, although it would seem that when appointing members of the European Commission, final appointments are now the remit of the President of the Commission and, strictly speaking, any country’s recommend appointee can be turned down. Every country might still retain their Commissioner, based on the recent declarations, but they might not get to pick exactly who they want.

The roles of the Parliament, Commission, and the aforementioned High Representative are outlined. Yadda yadda.

Article 20. “Member States which wish to establish enhanced cooperation between themselves within the framework of the Union’s non-exclusive competences may make use of its institutions and exercise those competences by applying the relevant provisions of the Treaties…” Wait. If two states – let’s say Ireland and the UK – want to make agreements regarding powers the Union doesn’t totally hold, they have to do so under the Union’s terms? Understandable to a degree, but a very odd provision.

I realise that I am only on page 39 – and the first twenty pages had no content. Eek.