Sunday, September 13, 2009

Lisbon treaty Summary

Discussions surrounding the pros and cons of the Lisbon treaty have failed thus far to view the Treaty as a whole or even as a sum of parts. Instead what we have read and heard has tended to be debate by interest groups concerned with aspects of the Treaty. Worse still Lobby groups have argued points that arent even in the Treaty ; from the minimum wage red-herring on the No side to the scaremongering of dire consequences on both sides. Here follows a synopsis of the Treaty's key clauses both to demystify the jargon and to debunk the fear-mongers.

The Treaty can be divided into two halves with the first half dealing with proposed changes to EU Governance, the way they do things, and the second half dealing with EU policy and activity changes. There are some six or seven fundamental changes in each half. The first half;

1. The Commission. A new position of EU Representative of foreign affairs will be created. The proposed drop from 27 Commissioners to 18 is now replaced by an assurance that each state keeps a Commissioner. Thanks due to the Irish for that welcome concession. The Commission's main role is to propose policy and law.

2. The Council of Ministers will meet in Public and not in private as they currently do. They will vote by Qualified Voting Majority and no longer by the system of unanimity / veto. The majority required will be a total weighted 55% majority. The Veto rule will continue for Defence and Taxation issues. The Council of Ministers make final decisions on Legislation, but now underLisbon will engage in greater consultation with the European Parliament.

3. The EU Council. This is the Council of the Heads of each Government. There will now be an elected President ( elected by the EU Council itself) for two and a half years which will be a full time position. The EU Council's role is to give " political direction" to the EU.

4. The European Parliament is given more powers under Lisbon. The Parliament will now have equal voting status on some legislation as the Council of Ministers.The Parliament will have new power to elect the Commission President. The Parliament has new increased powers to make legislative decisions in the areas of Asylum, Agriculture, Emigration and the EU Budget.

5. National Parliaments. Each country's own National Parliament has eight weeks to examine new legislation from the EU and if one third of countries object an EU bill can be sent back for review.

6. A Citizens initiative clause in Lisbon allows one million citizen signatories to bring forward a bill to the European Parliament for discussion in the Parliament .

7. The procedure and rules for countries gaining membership to the EU is outlined in a joining clause. Interestingly there is now also a process outlined for a country to leave the EU.

The second half of the Treaty outlining proposed changes to policy and activity deals with areas of competence ( the EUs powers in part or in full) and lists exclusive competences, joint member state and EU competences, and member state exclusive competences.

1. The Eu has exclusive competence ( full legislative power) in the internal market (free trade) and monetary policy in the eurozone ( the ECB).The Eu has exclusive competence in Customs law, Competition law and conservation in the seas.
The Eu has joint competence with each member state in social policy, environment, energy, transport and public health.
Member states have exclusive competence over human healthcare, culture, tourism, policing, sport,education,industry.

2. The Opt-out clause. Member states can opt out of EU taxation directives and do their own thing on tax or fiscal policy. EU Defence directives can be opted out of if they conflict with country policy-such as Irelands neutrality. Directives affecting common foreign and security interests must be unanimously accepted- in effect every country retains a right to veto on these issues.

3. The European culture and heritage clause. A paragraph outlines the influence that religion and history has on European law. In effect Judaeo-Christian traditions inform EU policy. Perhaps a safegaurd against Sharia law's claims for legitimacy in future Eastern accession states.

4. The fundamental charter of human rights is given equal legal status in the Treaty as the Treaty itself. It will be now known as the EU charter, will underpin future EU law and be a yardstick to test existing law. The charter gives specific protections to the young and the elderly.

5.The Solidarity clause. Member states are required to assist each other against terrorism, aggression, man-made disaster, natural disaster. This mutual assistance must not conflict with a country's NATO membership or a country's Neutrality. Each member state can decide to participate in a European Defence Agency- or not in our case as Neutrality is expressly protected. Conflict prevention and peace-keeping are mentioned. A formalised military grouping within the EU to lead defence policy and with the power to prevent a future Srebrenica.

6. Enhanced Cooperation clause. Nine or more EU states can now follow procedures of common policy if they agree to on any issue. This provides a means to work together on climate change and energy needs and is the first time the climate crisis is part of an EU treaty. This clause is said also to encourage improved policing with cross-border follow-up on human trafficking and drugs trade.
Dr Garret Fitzgerald stated in his Irish Times article recently that Irelands negotiation of Lisbon Two's Irish Guarantees is the latest example to be added to our record of considerable Irish successes in Foreign Policy.
Simply , the guarantees are; A. We will retain a Commissioner.
B. A Guarantee that we will continue to look after our own Tax.
C.The protections in our constitution on life, education, and the family have precedence over EU treaty or law.
D. Irelands position on Neutrality is safegaurded by a triple -lock system of Veto.
E. Workers rights and social issues are solemnly declared to be protected within Lisbon by the provisions of the EU charter.
On the day the Lisbon Treaty is ratified by all states a new treaty will enforce the provisions of these guarantees. My view is that we should trust the Guarantees as plainly no other small country will ever trust the institutions of the EU if Irelands assurances are not delivered as promised.
There is much to fear in the Treaty in the use of phrases like Solidarity and European Defence Agency but also much to welcome in the EU charter and the conditions for future accession. Conditions such as stable rule of law, protection of human rights and minorities.
The European union is the most successful example of multi-lateralism in the history of the world. Such success requires compromise of the type larger states made to begin with when accepting the membership application of a wet and backward former colony on the outer edge of the Atlantic sea all those years ago.

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