Edmond Grace SJ, author of Democracy and Public Happiness, sees the Lisbon Treaty as necessary for the smooth and coherent functioning of the European Union. The old rubrics of government, established with a much smaller Union in mind, are now inadequate to the purpose.
The main story of the European Union is about hundreds of millions of people emerging from tyranny. Ireland is an exception to this general rule. We overcame poverty and, with the help of John Hume who was inspired by the European model, sectarian strife.
It has worked well and we all want it to go on working well, but structures designed for six Member States are now used by twenty-seven. At the moment they are managing, but it simply won’t work in the long run. Hence the Lisbon Treaty. What does it do?
The Commission’s job is to make proposals. To be any good it needs moral authority, which means it has to work as a team. If it gets too big, teamwork is impossible – which is why every government is happy to do without a Commissioner in five out of every fifteen years. They want the Commission to work well.
The Council of Ministers, along with Parliament, votes on legislation. It’s realistic for small groups to vote by consensus, but as a group gets larger, consensus is harder to reach and decision-making gets paralysed. At that point majority voting, with a bit of give and take, is more likely to ensure group cohesion, provided no one group can dominate. The double majority (65% population, 55% states) has this in mind. Furthermore, if Lisbon is adopted, the Council, which has always met behind closed doors, will have to meet in public. That’s good!
President of the European Council. In the past the heads of government did this job in turns, every six months. Now, the work load has got too big for people who also have to run their own national governments. A full-time job needs a full-time person if it is to get done.
Parliament. If it gets too big it will have lots of members with no real chance to speak. They’ll have lots of votes, with each one counting for very little. More representatives don’t add up to better representation.
In the Lisbon Treaty, as in Ireland’s treaty of accession in 1971, there are lots of mind-boggling details. We voted yes then. Thirty years later we have it made, but we can still mess it up. Who would be most affected by a no vote? Most likely our neighbours in eastern Europe who look to us as something of a model. But they are used to being messed around. They’ve been messed around by Germany and by Russia. Maybe now it’s little Ireland’s turn to wreck their dreams.