Nosemonkey's EUtopia

In search of a European identity

“We cannot do business like this in future”

Thus spake Tony Blair, echoing Gerhard Schröder, following the negotiations for the shoddy Treaty of Nice back in 2000. And yet the last eight years have seen the European Union do business in exactly the same way, time and time again – last-minute concessions, bad compromises, unimaginative and ineffective solutions to problems that sometimes didn’t exist in the first place.

The Constitution, designed to rectify the mistakes of Nice’s last-minute compromises ended up inadequate as a result. In turn, the Treaty of Lisbon ended up little more than a shoddy remix with a few contentious bits removed (though not enough for its critics).

With Lisbon on the verge of death, is there any sign of the kind of radical rethinks and approaches that may shake the EU out of its growing torpor? Well, not really. But…

Unless Ireland can be persuaded to vote again, Lisbon – which must be ratified by all 27 nations to come into force – will die and the EU will be left operating under rules agreed to at 3:25 a.m. in Nice on Dec. 11, 2000.

Increasingly, however, diplomats are wondering whether that would be such a bad thing…

True, Lisbon is designed to streamline procedures that were creaking even in 2000, when the EU had only 15 member states, and that get more unwieldy with each nation that joins. But, in some ways, Lisbon would be a step backward.

There’s a compelling case made in this IHT article. Do go and read the whole thing. Not only is it an intriguing suggestion for a way forward, pulling together a few ideas I’ve seen elsewhere and adding to them to create a coherent strategy, but it’s also a handy overview of some of the key issues Lisbon was attempting (poorly) to address.


  1. I’m assuming that Mr. Blair’s throwaway line “We cannot do business like this in the future” referred to the summit itself as a vehicle for arriving at important decisions.

    I agree 100% but perhaps Mr. Blair, his successor and respective European Heads of State should ask themselves why decisions (affecting hundreds of millions of European Citizens) are negotiated in such an inherently opaque and undemocratic fashion in the first place.

    The answer to this perplexing question lies, of course, in the intrinsically intergovernmental foundations upon which the EEC/EC/EU was (and still is) built.

    Perhaps a more effective and fundamentally democratic mechanism would be an open and accountable forum, specifically mandated via that tried and tested democratic device we call the ballot box?

    The reason why this rather obvious solution has not yet emerged and we (European Citizens) are still saddled with the peripatetic goings on a successive European Council summits is primarily because respective national administrations are still routinely slaking their seemingly insatiable thirst for power and influence.

    Heaven forbid that we might actually see the emergence of a politicised European arena with truly pan-European parties advancing specifically European manifestoes for consideration and censure/endorsement by an informed European citizenry. The rather obvious inference to all of this might be a rational European electorate coming to the logical conclusion that individual member state governments were effectively superfluous to requirements – and we can’t have that can we?

  2. I think you’re a bit harsh here… The Convention that draw up the Constitution was a reasonable step forward in how to do these things, but the IGC was unable to accept even that, and things have become more and more messy since then. But at least the Convention was open, reasonably accessible. Nothing before or since has been.

  3. @Jon Worth

    I agree – the Laeken Declaration and the Convention process it spawned represented a bold step forward.

    I followed the Convention proceedings (call me an anorak) through daily downloads and various discussion forums and there was an air of optimism during the initial stages of the Convention I have not witnessed before or since but that period coincided with the participation of various parliamentarians on an individual basis, sub-national politicians and civil society groups in general; fresh ideas and initiatives were commonplace. For an all too brief period European Politics was exciting and engaging.

    These sessions all took place in the public domain. The Convention process took a marked negative trajectory when the various National Administrations (particularly noticeable amongst the larger member states) entered the negotiations – the discussions also went private (behind closed doors) and the entire Convention process (inclusive of the resulting Constitutional Treaty and its Lisbon counterpart) went pear shaped from that point onwards.

    For me, that series of events provided a profound insight into where the real problems within the European integration process reside?

  4. I guess the problem is less how these Treaties are drawn up – the Convention was at least held in public, a start – than why the EU is in total denial about their later rejection.
    It is not about the text, or just how it is drafted but more profoundly about unrepresentative administration versus representative politics.
    The EU seems unable to represent the Nos – it can only bypass or ignore them.
    Diplomacy and Treaties are bad enough in the sphere of international relations. Diplomatic method is a terrible way to conduct politics – and the EU is political.
    The insight from the referendums (in France, the Netherlands and Ireland) is that there is a profound division between the EU’s political establishment(s) and Europe’s peoples.
    In all three referendums unified political establishment support for the Treaty, in both its Constitutional and Lisbon forms, was unable to carry the day.
    The Constitutional Treaty would have been rejected by voters even if it had been the Convention text.

  5. Pingback: What is the EU for? (Part 2) | Nosemonkey’s EUtopia

  6. In case the trackback doesn’t get emailed to people who’ve commented, I’ve tried a bit of an answer to these comments in a dedicated post as it got a bit lengthy…