EU Balance Sheet 2007 and Prospects for 2008

Janis A. Emmanouilidis

Similar Greek version of the text published in ELIAMEP Review 2007-2008


2007 was a good year for the European Union (EU). After two sobering years full of frustration and stalemate the EU overcame its constitutional crisis and celebrated a number of major achievements including (1) the adoption of the Lisbon Treaty, (2) the definition of an ambitious climate and energy agenda, (3) the further completion of Europe’s reunification, and (4) the inclusion of the Treaty of Prüm into the Union’s legal framework. However, all these successes have one thing in common: There are still many doubts regarding the sustainability of these accomplishments achieved during the German and Portuguese Presidency in 2007, and it is thus worthwhile to analyse and evaluate them in more detail.

1. Adoption of the Lisbon Treaty: In October 2007 and thus more than two years after the shock of the French and Dutch “no” to the Constitutional Treaty the 27 EU governments adopted the Treaty of Lisbon. The basis for the successful completion of a short and rather unspectacular Intergovernmental Conference (July-October 2007) under the auspices of the Portuguese Presidency was a very precise mandate adopted during the Germany Presidency in June 2007. The Reform Treaty, which amends the current EU Treaties, includes almost all reforms originally laid down in the Constitutional Treaty. However, the revised Treaty on European Union and the new Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (the former Treaty establishing the European Community) exclude those elements of the Constitutional Treaty, which connote some sort of a European statehood. Most of the state-like features such as the name "constitution", the reference to EU symbols such as the European flag, anthem or motto and to avoid terms such as “European law” or “Union Minister for Foreign Affairs” were dropped. Taken altogether the Lisbon Treaty is less than the Constitutional Treaty but much more than the Treaty of Nice currently in force. Overall, the innovations included in the Reform Treaty have the potential to increase the Union’s institutional efficiency and to enhance the EU’s democratic legitimacy on both the European and national level. But the price for this success was in many respects high: (i) The new Treaty is once more the product of elites, of diplomats and lawyers worked out behind closed doors. Contrary to the original objective formulated in the Laeken Declaration (December 2001), citizens and parliamentarians were again by and large excluded. (ii) The Lisbon Treaty is an unreadable document. The Union’s primary law remains scattered, as the EU Treaties are – contrary to the Constitutional Treaty – not merged into one text. Ordinary citizens will not be able to read and understand the new Treaty and even experts have problems in grasping the nitty-gritty details of the 250-pages long text. (iii) The circumstance that the Lisbon Treaty covers around 95 per cent of the original Constitutional Treaty allows critics to argue that EU governments have ignored and disrespected the voice of the French and the Dutch people who had voted against these reforms. (iv) Finally, and most importantly, the new Treaty has merely been adopted by the member states’ governments. It still needs to be ratified by every single EU member before it can enter into force. If the Treaty fails ratification in one or more member states the new primary law cannot enter into force in January 2009 and the Union will have to continue to operate on the basis of the Nice Treaty. In this case the EU would again slip into a political crisis, this time probably even worse than the constitutional crisis of 2005-2006.

2. Definition of an ambitious climate and energy agenda: At the EU Spring summit in March 2007 the Union committed itself to an ambitious integrated climate and energy policy agenda. The main elements of this agenda include the reduction of carbon emissions by 20 percent (from the 1990 level), while pushing for an international agreement to succeed the Kyoto Protocol aimed at achieving a 30 per cent cut by all developed nations by 2020, and the increase in the share of renewables in the energy mix to 20 percent by 2020. The overall strategic objective behind the agenda is to limit the global average temperature increase to 2º C above pre-industrial levels. Through the adoption of this ambitious agenda Europe has taken the lead in the global struggle to limit the effects of climate change. However, the success of the agenda is by no means certain due to two main reasons: (i) The objectives laid down in the integrated climate and energy policy still need to be translated into concrete policies on the European and on the national level. This is no easy task while industrial and ecological interests heavily clash in practice and while member states still need to settle the burden-sharing targets, specifying how much each of the 27 member states should contribute to the EU’s new binding objectives. (ii) The success of the EU’s climate and energy agenda is beyond the scope of Europe. The objective to limit global warming to 2º C can only be achieved if other key international players such as the United States, China, India, Japan or Australia also agree to sign up to binding reduction targets.

3. Further completion of Europe’s reunification: 2007 witnessed important further steps towards the completion of the reunification of Europe: Bulgaria and Romania joined the EU on January 1, 2007, thereby completing the Union’s fifth enlargement round. As the first of the new member states Slovenia introduced the Euro in January 2007. In June 2007 the EU Finance Ministers took the decision to extend the Euro area to two other new EU countries, namely Malta and Cyprus, on January 1, 2008, enlarging the Eurozone to 15 states. In December 2007 nine new member states joined the Schengen area thereby extending the passport-free travel system to the Czech Republic, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Hungary, Malta, Poland, Slovenia and Slovakia. Enlargement negotiations with Croatia by and large remain on track as further negotiating chapters were opened in 2007. The further completion of Europe’s reunification beyond Croatia to other countries of the Western Balkans and beyond is however facing problems. In Bulgaria and Romania the reform of the judiciary system is still lagging and the level of corruption and organized crime remains high in both countries. The insufficient progress in justice reform and in the fight against corruption supports those who argue that the accession of both countries came too early. This in return discredits and puts a heavy burden on the EU’s overall enlargement process, especially as public opinion in many EU countries remains rather sceptical concerning both the 2004/07 enlargement and the prospect of future widening rounds.

4. Integration of Prüm Treaty into EU framework: One important success of 2007 did not attract sufficient public attention: During the German Presidency the 27 EU members agreed to include the Treaty of Prüm into the EU’s legal framework. The Prüm Treaty was originally initiated outside the EU and signed in May 2005 between Austria, Belgium, France, Germany, Luxembourg, Spain and the Netherlands to ensure that personal information – including for the first time DNA and fingerprints data – may be exchanged swiftly and efficiently by national law enforcement officers to help combating terrorism and cross-border crime, including illegal immigration. The integration of the Prüm Treaty into the EU’s legal acquis constitutes a successful test case for the future strategic development of the EU. This has not to do with the specific content of the Prüm Treaty itself but rather with the circumstance that it once again reveals the potentials of differentiated integration. As in the past with the common currency, the Schengen accords or social policy, the recent case of the Prüm Treaty illustrates that intensified cooperation among a smaller group of countries can help overcome a situation of stalemate and improve the way in which the European Union functions. In an increasingly heterogeneous EU of 27 and eventually more member states further differentiation will be an indispensable characteristic of an EU 27+ and a strategic key for the future development of European integration.

Having in mind the widespread negative political mood and the crisis following the rejection of the Constitutional Treaty in 2005, the above list of achievements is highly impressive. But what follows now after the successes of 2007? What are the most important challenges and priorities the European Union will face in 2008? One can particularly identify two:

1. Ratification and implementation of Lisbon Treaty: In 2008 the key challenge and top priority dictating the EU agenda will be the ratification of the new Reform Treaty. All 27 member states need to ratify the new primary law in order for it to come into force as scheduled on January 1, 2009, in time for the European elections later that year. With the exception of Ireland, where a compulsory referendum will be held in May 2008, all other member states will avoid popular vote after the negative experience of the Dutch and French “no” to the Constitutional Treaty and rather run through a parliamentary ratification process. The Slovenian and the French EU presidencies in 2008 will be eager to avoid any measures and actions, which might endanger the ratification of the new Treaty in one or the other member state. However, in the case of the French Presidency this might prove to be more of a challenge. Since coming to power President Nicolas Sarkozy and his government have been very keen to promote France’s leading role in the EU. One can expect that the French EU Presidency in the second half of 2008 will use the opportunity and table numerous proposals to underline Paris’ leading role in EU affairs. However, proposals in politically sensitive areas such as migration, security and defence or neighbourhood policy might lead to political controversies among EU members, which in return risk putting a strain on the adoption of the Lisbon Treaty.
In parallel to the ratification process the EU and its member states need already to prepare the implementation of the Union’s new primary law. Two issues will be particular important: (i) The allocation of two new top EU jobs: In view of an entry into force of the Lisbon Treaty the EU member states will have to determine who will become the first permanent President of the European Council and who will become the EU’s first High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, who will be the Union’s new chief foreign policy representative combining the tasks of the current High Representative for Common Foreign and Security Policy (currently Javier Solana), a new position as Vice-President of the European Commission and the chairmanship of the EU’s Foreign Affairs Council (in place of the six-monthly rotating Presidency). The allocation of these two new top EU positions will be part of a big political bargaining process involving also the appointment of both the next President of the European Commission and the next President of the European Parliament. (ii) The EU needs to settle the institutional details concerning the EU’s new “European External Action Service”, which shall assist the High Representative in fulfilling his or her tasks. The Lisbon Treaty is rather vague on the specifics of the new institution and it will require skilful institutional engineering to determine the detailed design of the new External Service.

2. Definition of a new raison d’être: The Lisbon Treaty provided a practical and sober way out of the EU’s constitutional crisis. However, the EU has still failed to provide its citizens with a new sense of orientation in order to overcome public scepticism concerning the future of European integration. Citizens are not interested in legal-institutional reforms but rather attracted by the output of European policies. What Europe still needs is a convincing and comprehensible answer to a simple question: What do we need the EU for in the future – beyond the valuable achievements of the past 50 years? However, it will not be enough to proclaim this new raison d’être in the form of a solemn declaration replete with group photo. Citizens and elites will begin to sense a new fascination with the European project, if the EU is able to define a new grand project from which it can derive legitimacy. European policymaking has always been particularly dynamic and successful whenever it set its sights on a large-scale and ambitious goal. The most impressive example of this was the single market project, “Europe ‘92”. The EU and its member states have not yet defined an equally ambitious yet realistic and concrete grand project beyond a “Europe of small projects” – this remains a key task for 2008!

A published similar Greek version of the text can be found on the website of ELIAMEP.

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