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Updated: Oct. 9, 2009
The Treaty of Lisbon is a blueprint for consolidating the European Union ‘s power and streamlining its increasingly unwieldy bureaucracy.
The treaty must be approved by all 27 member states to be enacted. It was rejected by voters in Ireland in 2008, but a second referendum on Oct. 2, 2009, supported the treaty. The Czech Republic , Poland and Germany have yet to ratify it. Defeat by a single country has the potential effect of stopping the whole thing cold.
The treaty, written after torturous meetings among all the member states, is dense and complex. But if enacted, it would give Europe its first full-time president and create a new foreign policy chief whose responsibilities would include controlling the development aid that the union distributes. The new post is intended to help give Europe a diplomatic voice on a par with that of the United States.
European leaders say they hope the treaty will reduce the nationalistic fissures that have hobbled the European Union as a policy-making body.
The treaty would also reduce the size of the European Commission , the union’s executive body, rotating the seats so that each member country would have a seat in 10 out of every 15 years. And it would change the voting procedures on the European Council, made up of Europe’s heads of state and government, so that fewer decisions would require unanimity.
The defeat of the treaty in Ireland in 2008, by a margin of 53.4 percent to 46.6 percent, was the result of a highly organized “no” campaign that had played to Irish voters’ deepest fears about the European Union. For all its benefits, many people in Ireland and in Europe feel that the union is remote, undemocratic and ever more inclined to strip its smaller members of the right to make their own laws and decide their own futures.
After some soul-searching, the European Union decided to try again in large part because there seemed to be no alternative.
Public opinion appears to have shifted because of the economic crisis. Since Ireland joined what was then the European Community in 1973, peat bogs and grazing pastures have been plowed over to make way for gleaming semiconductor plants and tracts of suburban McMansions. But over the last year and a half, the so-called Celtic Tiger has lost its roar, as Ireland has suffered through one of the worst real estate busts of any country in the world.
With the economy continuing to function largely because of E.U. support, in the form of liquidity from the European Central Bank in Frankfurt, many voters apparently decided that thumbing their noses at their European neighbors would have been a bad idea.
While the Irish vote was a great relief to Brussels, worries grew that the real stumbling bloc could be the recalcitrant CzechRepublic. While Poland and Germany were expected to complete ratification if the Irish voted “yes,” Prime Minister Jan Fischer of the CzechRepublic warned his E.U. counterparts in September 2009 that a legal challenge to the treaty could delay its signature in Prague. To satisfy the Czech Constitution, the country’s president, Vaclav Klaus , who opposes the treaty and is a vociferous critic of the E.U. in general, will have to sign it.
President Nicolas Sarkozy of France warned that any country dragging its feet would face unspecified “consequences” if it did not follow an Irish “yes” by swiftly signing the treaty.
On Oct. 9, only days after Irish voters gave final approval to the treaty, Mr. Klaus, as foreseen, threatened to erect a last-minute roadblock and demanded changes. With the content of the changes unknown, analysts debated whether Mr. Klaus might simply be trying to delay the signing, or perhaps wring a face-saving concession given his conservative party’s opposition to the treaty.
Poland continued a somewhat bumpy route to expected approval of the treaty, with officials publicly disagreeing over when President Lech Kaczynski – also a Euroskeptic – would sign it.