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Making a new case for Lisbon [Update]

by Frank Schnittger Thu Nov 27th, 2008 at 08:04:12 AM EST

Thanks to all who commented on the draft LTE. The Irish Independent has published our revised version today as follows: Time to put the EU house in order - Letters - Independent.ie

Brian Cowen is on the record as saying that the Lisbon Treaty, if passed, would have helped the EU to deal with the world economic crisis more effectively.

Opponents have challenged this assertion, arguing that there is no evidence the Lisbon Treaty would have had much effect either way.

However, would a full-time President of the European Council (as provided for under the Lisbon Treaty) have sat on his hands whilst Sarkozy fiddled?

Then we had the spectre of the EU Commission threatening sanctions against Ireland for breaking the EU Stability and Growth Pact when it was abundantly clear that many EU member states would have to do likewise in order to ameliorate the crisis.

Meanwhile, the EU Parliament was its usual ineffectual self -- it too was to get more powers under the treaty.

Eventually the European Central Bank saw some sense and reduced its interest rates having increased them as recently as August.

Could it have been more out of touch with the reality on the ground?

The reality is that the EU has been moribund since 2005, when two countries out of the 27 members rejected the original Constitutional Treaty -- much like the USA has been a lame duck post-Iraq. But at least the USA, under Obama, now seems to be about to renew itself. Meanwhile, the EU remains paralysed.

Do we believe that Ireland, acting alone, can solve our banking and economic crisis?

It's time we put the Lisbon Treaty behind us, thus creating a full-time president of the EU Council, and giving the European parliament more power.

Then we need to get on with the task of developing a more coordinated and cohesive EU response to the enormous challenges facing us all in the current world recession.


[Original Diary]The Irish polity seems to be turning in on itself, as the economic crisis deepens and new scapegoats are sought.  The Government appears to be signaling that a second referendum might be held in October 2009, although I don't see any reason why the prospects for its success will prove any greater, the longer we leave it.  If anything, the Lisbon Treaty will come to be seen as an irrelevant and irritating distraction whilst far more pressing problems go untackled.  

I feel we need to be making a new case for the Treaty in the new circumstances we find ourselves in, but feel ill equipped to do so.  Perhaps the collective wisdom of ET can make a contribution.

I attach, below the fold, a draft Letter to the Editor I am musing about.  It lacks specifics, and a compelling argument.  Perhaps we can, collectively, make a better case.

Dear Editor:

Brian Cowen is on the record as saying that the Lisbon Treaty, if passed, would have helped the EU to deal with the world economic crisis more effectively.  Opponents have challenged that this is a post hoc rationalisation, and that there is no evidence that the Lisbon Treaty would have had much effect either way.  However can anybody seriously doubt that a competent full time President of the European Council (as provided for under the Lisbon Treaty) would have sat on his hands whilst the Sarkozy fiddled?  

Then we had the spectre of the EU threatening sanctions against Ireland for breaking the EU Stability and Growth Pact when it was abundantly clear many EU member states would have to do likewise in order to ameliorate the crisis.  Finally the European Central Bank saw sense and reduced its interest rates having increased them as recently as August.  Apparently it had been more concerned with inflation than recession when everyone knew that deflation was the more likely outcome of prolonged recession.

Does anyone seriously think that Ireland, acting alone, can solve our banking and financial crisis?  We need only look to Iceland's current plight.  Does anyone seriously think that the level of cohesion and coordination we have seen under the Sarkozy Presidency and the other EU institutional response have been adequate to the task of warding off a major economic depression?

The USA appears, finally, to be getting its act together as Obama assembles a heavyweight economic team.  Europe needs to do likewise, and if the Lisbon Treaty is to be criticised, it is because it does not go far enough in addressing the institutional crises we all face.  Its time to pass it and put it behind us, so that the EU can begin to tackle the far greater challenges that lie ahead.

There was irritation in Ireland when Sarkozy appeared to only consult with the major EU powers before going to the G8 Summit as EU President. President Vaclav Klaus' antics didn't go down very well either. The Irish Government was forced to act alone when the financial sector here threatened to implode - there was, at the time, no coherent EU strategy in place for dealing with such eventualities. Eventually, having criticized Ireland for the credit insurance guarantee, many other EU member states were forced to do something similar. The sense of a remote and out of touch EU bureaucracy has never been greater. The atmosphere could turn seriously sour unless a more positive vision for the EU, acting in concert under Lisbon, can be created. Over to you guys.

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In the LTE:

would have sat on his hands whilst the Sarkozy fiddled?

I think the "the" needs to be removed, unless I'm not reading it correctly.  Other than that, it looks good, although I'd caution against seeing Obama's team as a bunch of heavyweights, since they haven't done anything yet and are not individuals without cause for some concern.

Be nice to America. Or we'll bring democracy to your country.

by Drew J Jones (pedobear@pennstatefootball.com) on Tue Nov 25th, 2008 at 12:02:32 PM EST
Thanks for correcting the typo.  I take your point about Obama's team and am aware of progressive criticisms of them as Clinton re-threads, but from an Irish perspective one gets a sense of a meticulously organised campaign now transmogrifying into a well organised transition blending experienced insiders with old Chicago hands and some more progressive thinkers/administrators with relevant experience in the real world.  Sure the ideologues of all stripes will object, but I prefer the smell of experienced operatives to unknown idealists at least for the early phase of the new administration..  

Meanwhile in Europe nothing much is happening beyond some Keynesian stimulus in Britain, some belated interest rate reductions by the ECB, assorted bank bail-outs, and a lot of national initiatives - but little positive action by the EU Commission, Parliament, or Council.  Churchill spoke of "masterly inactivity", but the EU seems to be carrying things a bit too far...

Will someone please tell me I am getting this all wrong and I am missing some wonderful grand plan being developed out there...

notes from no w here

by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Tue Nov 25th, 2008 at 12:22:41 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Oh, I agree, and I think the criticisms of the team thus far are overblown.  I don't have a big problem with Clintonistas serving, so long as it's not Clinton -- Bill or Hillary -- campaign staffers (and I'd prefer to not have actual Clintons around, or, if they're around, I'd rather they not exercise any power).  I think people are much too hard on Summers and Geithner, each of whom is more technocrat than ideologue, as best I can tell -- although, again, Summers is a drama queen, and I'm glad for that reason that he was not chosen to head Treasury.

As to the EU, it strikes me that the EU hasn't really had any direction since the No vote in France on the Constitution.  Nobody knows what it is or what it should be, there are no clear ideological lines on which to fight it out, and the politics have become a colossal mess.

You can't establish anything, legally or in spirit, if you can't get one of the three biggest players to go along with it.  The rejection of Lisbon in Ireland was simply piling on.  And, as you say, coming back to Lisbon in eleven months might simply make people think of the EU as an annoyance.  As was discussed last week (?), it might actually lose votes relative to the first referendum, because it runs the risk of offending the Irish by suggesting that the government and the EU will push Lisbon until they get the desired result.

It has to prove continued relevance to people's daily lives, or it's only going to face a long line of rejections.

Be nice to America. Or we'll bring democracy to your country.

by Drew J Jones (pedobear@pennstatefootball.com) on Tue Nov 25th, 2008 at 12:41:50 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I think your argument that the EU has been in paralysis since the constitution was rejected by two states is a powerful one and needs to be made in the letter

notes from no w here
by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Tue Nov 25th, 2008 at 03:44:40 PM EST
[ Parent ]
You'll have to make it.  I'm busy preparing for war over the legacy of John Lennon with afew. ;)

Be nice to America. Or we'll bring democracy to your country.
by Drew J Jones (pedobear@pennstatefootball.com) on Tue Nov 25th, 2008 at 04:04:11 PM EST
[ Parent ]
It has to cut a shade deeper than that, I think. Arguing that Lisbon will help to get the EU back up to speed is all well and good, but there's a crucial difference between speed and velocity, in that velocity has a direction... We'll have to outline which direction Lisbon will speed us up in, and if that direction is not self-evidently A Good Direction(TM), we'll also have to make a reasonably convincing case that it's better than the direction the EU would drift if left to the undercurrents of history.

- Jake

Austerity can only be implemented in the shadow of a concentration camp.

by JakeS (JangoSierra 'at' gmail 'dot' com) on Tue Nov 25th, 2008 at 04:19:29 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Well at the moment the EU seems incapable of moving decisively in any direction, so drift is the only option - which is dangerous if there storms at sea.  Having the capability to act effectively in response to as yet unknown exigencies can in itself be regarded as a requirement for a resilient system, even if we don't know that the optimal course will always be chosen.

I may not always trust the Captain, but I would like my ship to have an engine and a rudder regardless.  The Captain we can always change if he messes up - but designing a ship without engine and rudder adequate to navigate the shifting tides and currents of history is asking for  trouble.

notes from no w here

by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Tue Nov 25th, 2008 at 04:36:30 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I would like to underline that there is a european election next year. Until now, the right wing parties have won european elections for the last 15 years. The european policy on economics seems to me directly impacted by this fact. A change in european policy cannot appear without an increased left wing presence at the EU parliament. This is were the EU propositions are ultimately voted, not in the commission (who only redacts them).

A free fox in a free henhouse!
by Xavier in Paris on Tue Nov 25th, 2008 at 05:12:41 PM EST
[ Parent ]
While I do not wish to subtract from the importance of voting in the 2009 EP election, I would like to add that the commission holds both the legislative initiative as well as the possibility to veto the end result.

A vote for PES is a vote for EPP! A vote for EPP is a vote for PES! Support the coalition, vote EPP-PES in 2009!
by A swedish kind of death on Tue Nov 25th, 2008 at 05:35:17 PM EST
[ Parent ]
And ultimately, the real power is held by the Council!!  Regrettably the EP is still a bit of a paper tiger, although Lisbon would also have given it more power - something the Letter should also reflect...

notes from no w here
by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Tue Nov 25th, 2008 at 06:08:15 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Apart from expanding the codecision process to cover the other two pillars, is there any other expansions of EP power in the Lisbon treaty?

A vote for PES is a vote for EPP! A vote for EPP is a vote for PES! Support the coalition, vote EPP-PES in 2009!
by A swedish kind of death on Tue Nov 25th, 2008 at 06:21:36 PM EST
[ Parent ]
The right to dismiss Commissioners?

notes from no w here
by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Tue Nov 25th, 2008 at 06:37:33 PM EST
[ Parent ]
That is definetly something. Care to explain the rules of it or give me a link?

A vote for PES is a vote for EPP! A vote for EPP is a vote for PES! Support the coalition, vote EPP-PES in 2009!
by A swedish kind of death on Tue Nov 25th, 2008 at 07:32:16 PM EST
[ Parent ]
In a world where unanimous decisions are usual, having the right to promote a dissenting one is important. This is the way the EU parliament works, and there are example of it having an actual effect (in environmental matters for what i would know). It has the right to ask the commission to rewrite its documents. THe council decides, but it does so on commission written documents, if these documents are revised by the parliament, it means you have some way to modify them.

I believe you should see it as some sort of Venice Doge Republic, rather than a copy of the US constitution. the MEP would be some kind of "Grand conseil" or "Conseil des 40" for Europe.

It shouldn't be dismissed.

A free fox in a free henhouse!

by Xavier in Paris on Wed Nov 26th, 2008 at 03:09:37 PM EST
[ Parent ]
the EU parliament also approve the newly instated comission, with a veto right. Remember the Santer commission. (which was dismissed by parliament)

A free fox in a free henhouse!
by Xavier in Paris on Wed Dec 17th, 2008 at 03:01:12 PM EST
[ Parent ]
If the captain is piss-drunk and wants to head towards the storm, it might be better to just drift around for a while...

Part of the issue here is that in the process of building the engine, we also shape the captain who crews it. All other things being equal, I agree that European integration is A Good Thing. But all other things are not necessarily equal, and anyway, I'm not among those you need to win over, because I'm already in favour of Lisbon - in fact, if I have a complaint, it is that Lisbon doesn't go far enough.

- Jake

Austerity can only be implemented in the shadow of a concentration camp.

by JakeS (JangoSierra 'at' gmail 'dot' com) on Wed Nov 26th, 2008 at 04:20:05 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Yes there needs to be controls on Captains, but that doesn't mean building ships without engines.  And your argument that the engine shapes the captain is a bit weird. The proposed Engine in this case is the Lisbon constitutional structure of the EU.  The question of who gets the top job is an entirely distinct question.  Blair might even have had himself in mind for the job.  That doesn't mean he will get it, and indeed, makes it no more likely that he will get it.

We could write an entire diary on the ship of state metaphor for constitutional reform.  Most politicians are better suited for sailing boats as they just go wherever the wind blows tacking from left to right all the while.  Blair fancied a luxury cruise liner with all his rich buddies on board.  The neocons wanted a battle ship they could base their missiles on.  I'd be happy with a  hard working feighter keeping the economies ticking over - using solar/wind energy, of course!

notes from no w here

by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Wed Nov 26th, 2008 at 04:40:53 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Brian Cowen is on the record as saying that the Lisbon Treaty, if passed, would have helped the EU to deal with the world economic crisis more effectively.  Opponents have challenged this assertion, arguing that there is no evidence the Lisbon Treaty would have had much effect either way.  However can anybody seriously expect that a competent full time President of the European Council (as provided for under the Lisbon Treaty) would have sat on his hands whilst Sarkozy fiddled?  

Then we had the spectre of the EU Commission threatening sanctions against Ireland for breaking the EU Stability and Growth Pact when it was abundantly clear that many EU member states would have to do likewise in order to ameliorate the crisis. Meanwhile the EU Parliament was its usual ineffectual self  - it too was to get more powers under the Treaty.

Eventually the European Central Bank saw some sense and reduced its interest rates having increased them as recently as August. Could it have been more out of touch with the reality on the ground?

The reality is that the EU has been moribund since 2005, when 2 countries out of the 27 Members rejected the original Constitutional Treaty - much like the USA has been with a lame duck post Iraq.  But at least the USA, under Obama, now seems to be about to renew itself.  Meanwhile the EU remains paralysed.

Do we believe that that Ireland, acting alone, can solve our banking and economic crisis?  We need only look to Iceland's current plight, but so far it has been every country for itself, and Depression has been taking the hindmost.  Does anyone seriously think that the level of cohesion and coordination we have seen under the Sarkozy Presidency and the other EU institutional responses have been adequate to the task of warding off a major economic depression?

It's time we put the Lisbon Treaty behind us, thus creating a full time President of the EU Council, and giving the European parliament more power.  Then we need to get on with the task of developing a more coordinated and cohesive EU response to the enormous challenges facing us all in the current world recession.


notes from no w here

by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Tue Nov 25th, 2008 at 06:48:44 PM EST
The Government appears intent on holding another Referendum in October 2009.  But can we really wait that long before we start putting our European house in order?  How much more momentum must the EU lose before we realise that we badly need it to function much more efficiently, and that our concerns about abortion, conscription, taxation and national identity are distractions from the urgent task confronting all Europeans?

notes from no w here
by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Tue Nov 25th, 2008 at 06:57:42 PM EST
[ Parent ]
My general impressions:

It is a bit "scatter-gun" - I think you are trying to touch way too many bases.

You take some swipes at Sarkozy and the French (not Sarkozy's) presidency, with the explicit claim that someone else could have done better. You also join the chorus that the ECB should have cut interest rates earlier and faster. Variations on both assertions are also used as "No" talking points and, frankly, I think both are fairly questionable (nota bene: zero economic expertise).

Personally, I am more sympathetic to "the EU - you don't know how good you've got it" rather that "the EU - it can do better" line of argument (particularly in respect of the financial crisis) - although I accept it would probably tend to get peoples backs up.

by det on Wed Nov 26th, 2008 at 03:41:51 AM EST
[ Parent ]
We've got the EU as it currently is (however good or bad) right now.  That argument (for the status quo) implies a no vote.  You've got to be able to argue that the EU under Lisbon would be better.

Nothing personal about Sarkozy (or the French)  the point is we need a full time Presidency.  Sarkozy HAS been very confused, sometimes against, sometimes for bail-outs, at first not consulting smaller members, then calling a special council when he adopted the Brown strategy.   From an Irish perspective, the ECB, too, has had its head in the clouds, with a very unrealistic take on how the real world economy was developing.

But the general point isn't about the French or the obsession with just the French/German economies.  It is about having a full-time leadership at EU level and the more decisive leadership that Lisbon would enable.

notes from no w here

by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Wed Nov 26th, 2008 at 04:21:58 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Published

It is a bit late for me to say it now, but if you are making an explicit pro-Lisbon argument, you really should avoid this wording: "It's time we put the Lisbon Treaty behind us."

by det on Thu Nov 27th, 2008 at 05:04:17 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Navigation on the Indo site is truly awful...

notes from no w here
by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Thu Nov 27th, 2008 at 07:52:20 AM EST
[ Parent ]
It's time we put the Lisbon Treaty behind us, thus creating a full-time president of the EU Council, and giving the European parliament more power.

I couldn't agree more.

by Asinus Asinum Fricat (patric.juillet@gmail.com) on Thu Nov 27th, 2008 at 02:33:03 PM EST


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