State and Politics in Germany

The EU Reform Treaty: "Giving the EU a Face"

Im Hieronymus-Kloster wird der EU-Reformvertrag (Vertrag von Lissabon) von den EU-Staats- und Regierungschefs sowie den EU-Außenministern  unterzeichnet. Copyright: Presse- und Informationsamt der Bundesregierung Professor Dr. Eckart D. Stratenschulte; Copyright: Eckart D. StratenschulteIt was a long and difficult birth. Many even stopped believing it would ever happen because of all the difficulties: But the Lisbon Treaty is now ready, and merely has to be ratified now. Goethe-Online spoke to Eckart D. Stratenschulte, Director of the European Academy Berlin, about the significance of the treaty and what it will change.

What are the effects of the Reform Treaty, as it is known, for the man on the street? Will it bring the EU closer to the citizens?

The EU will become more transparent, the Parliament will be given more legislative powers and it will elect the President of the Commission. There will also be a European citizens’ referendum. In the future, if citizens gather a million signatures from various different Member States they can demand that the EU Commission address a certain issue.

Do you really expect that to happen?

Yes, I think so. Just recently the Works Councils of all the European Nokia factories met in Brussels. Subsidy practices and the relocation of jobs – these are burning issues for the people. I can well imagine that a citizens’ referendum on these issues would be successful.

Will it be possible to read the Treaty of Lisbon at some point?

That is not easy because the Treaty of Lisbon is a treaty amending existing treaties. That means it can only be understood when it is read together with the other documents it refers to - the Treaty on European Union and the Treaty establishing the European Community - in the form in which they were last amended by the Nice conference. But who’s going to do that? So far there is no official consolidated version of the Lisbon Treaty, i.e. a final version including all the amendment clauses that can be checked. I think that is a mistake. Initially it will only be possible to communicate the Reform Treaty at public information events.

The European Parliament is being granted more rights – but does the man on the street know that? Will more people go to vote at the European elections?

Federal Chancellor Angela Merkel signs the EU Reform Treaty (Lisbon Treaty) at the Hieronymus Monastery. Copyright: Press and Information Office of the Federal Government of Germany I can’t predict what will happen. The Parliament has always had to face the preconceived conception that it is unimportant because it doesn’t elect a government. The EU simply isn’t a nation state. But even in some nation states the parliaments only elect the head of government, as is the case in Germany, too. People overlook the fact that the European Commission can only take up office once it as been confirmed by the Parliament. Following ratification of the Lisbon Treaty, the co-decision procedure will apply to virtually all areas of policy. The European Parliament will have equal powers to those of the Council of Ministers meaning the Parliament cannot take decisions on its own, but it also means that nothing can be decided without the approval of the Parliament either. People often underestimate the European Parliament.

What will the treaty lead to: more integration in the community or will it go more in the direction of intergovernmental cooperation, more like a club of nations?

The treaty will bring the states closer together. That will boost integration. It has been said of the treaty that it is an instruction manual for the EU of the 21st century. When the EU isn’t doing so well, when it isn’t working, then it is often the less strong states that decide. This way every country plays a role and that can only strengthen the sense of community.

Will the treaty create a two-track Europe?

We already have a two-track Europe. But I don’t think that is such a bad thing. The main thing is that we have a common goal, even if we are approaching it at different speeds. The Eurozone is becoming larger all the time, and nine additional Member States have just adopted the Schengen Agreement. Furthermore the Prüm Treaty has improved the opportunities for cooperating in the area of internal security. If that all happens within the EU that’s fine with me.

The battle for the new positions has already begun: Jean-Claude Juncker, Tony Blair, Felipe Gonzalez, Edmund Stoiber are all being considered. How important are well-known personalities in the EU?

The EU Reform Treaty (Lisbon Treaty) is signed by the EU heads of state and government as well as the EU foreign ministers at the Hieronymus Monastery. Copyright: Press and Information Office of the Federal Government of GermanyVery important I would say. There will be new elections in the coming year. There will be a President of the Council, who will remain in office for two and a half years, a High Representative for Foreign Policy and a new Commission President. How well these new positions are received depends very much on what the men or women in them make of these roles. These positions will require strong personalities and much will depend on what countries the successful candidates come from. I wouldn’t want to speculate, but I don’t think that a British person would be a good President of the EU considering the scepticism towards Europe that exists in the UK.

What impact will the Lisbon treaty have on the cultural policy of the EU?

Not much. Cultural diversity will remain, even if the motto "Unity in Diversity" is not allowed to appear in the treaty any more. The EU’s initiatives in the field of Film and audiovisual media are bearing fruit – the presentation on YouTube showed that. The Europeans will continue to represent their values and traditions around the world. What could change is that decisions could be made more quickly. The Council of the EU can decide more things by majority voting, the EU Commission will become smaller and more streamlined. The new positions will give the EU a face – and that is always good for projecting a common approach.

Following tough negotiations, the EU heads of state and government reached agreement on the new treaty 19 October 2007. On 13 December the EU heads of state and government as well as the foreign ministers signed the "Treaty of Lisbon" in a ceremonial act. The treaty has paved the way for a President of the Council who will remain in office for two and a half years and a High Representative for Foreign Policy. After it has been ratified by the Members States, the Reform Treaty will enter into force on 1 January 2009. The Reform Treaty will replace the failed EU constitution from 2005 and aims to make sure the European Union, with its 27 Member States, remains capable of functioning effectively.

from: Baden-Württemberg State Agency for Civic Education

The interview was conducted by Volker Thomas.
He works as a freelance journalist in Bonn und Berlin and runs a copywriting and design agency in Berlin

Translation: Marsalie Turner
Copyright: Goethe-Institut, Online-Redaktion

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February 2008

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