Lisbon (17): Without the treaty Ireland cedes its interests to bigger fish…

Senator Deirdre de Burca argues that for all the legitimate misgivings surrounding the beefing of a European foreign policy, not least round those concerns in LE4 and LE16, the mere act of the EU coming together in a single multilateral body to tackle issues like climate change, international terrorism or with wild hiccuping in global markets. Collective action is not a choice, it is a necessity. Without that capacity Ireland can have little hope that its own interests that will represented (or even just protected) by the bigger fish around the global table..

By Senator Deirdre de Burca

The EU represents a “higher-order” political system, where nation states have chosen to pool some of their sovereignty in order to be better equipped to respond to these international challenges.

Changing economic and geopolitical realities mean we now live in a very interdependent world where collective action is increasingly a matter of necessity rather than choice. As a global community, we face a number of serious challenges, which no previous generation has had to confront.

In the early stages of the 21st century catastrophic climate change confronts humanity unless global warming is tackled at an international level. The depletion of oil and gas supplies over the next few decades will mean energy crises occurring regularly for many countries unless action is taken to promote energy security internationally.

The current crisis in the international financial system will mean that the emerging major powers will have to agree a new model of global financial regulation. The world trade system will have to be reformed to properly respond to the legitimate and growing demands of the developing world.

The resolution of long-standing regional conflicts such as the one between Israel and Palestine, will require the involvement of major global powers. The rise of Islamic fundamentalism and the international terrorism linked to it will have to be collectively addressed.

Timothy Garton Ash, historian and Guardian newspaper columnist, recently spoke in Dublin. He said: “Unless we Europeans wake up to the world we’re in, which we show few signs of doing, our influence will continue to dwindle in the years to come.”

At present the international identity of the EU is weak and fractured. Member state governments often promote different priorities in international forums, and speak in “different voices” on the same issues depending on whether they are in Brussels or their national capitals.

The presidency of the EU also rotates every six months, which can result in a high level of inconsistency in terms of political leadership and direction.

How does the Lisbon Treaty improve this situation?

One of the strengths of the Lisbon Treaty is that it sets out clearly the values on which the EU is founded, which will inform its relations with the rest of the world. These include human dignity, liberty, democracy, equality, the rule of law and respect for human rights including the rights of persons belonging to minorities.

The treaty establishes a more permanent (five-yearly) president of the European Council. The presidency of other Council of Minister formations will rotate, with three member states sharing the presidency for an 18-month period.

Lisbon creates a new post, the High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy. This new role amalgamates the role of the several commissioners currently responsible for aspects of external policy.

A new European External Action Service (an EU diplomatic corps) is established under Lisbon to support the High Representative’s work. Lisbon proposes little change however, in decision-making in the field of foreign and security policy.

Unanimity (ie use of the national veto) rather than majority voting remains the general rule in the EU’s Common Foreign and Security Policy.

It is possible to support Lisbon while acknowledging that very real public concerns remain about the transparency and fairness of the EU’s international trade policy.

It is possible to support Lisbon while being critical of the lack of adequate parliamentary oversight of the EU’s expanding security and defence missions.

It is possible to support the treaty while recognising that it only partially addresses the long-standing democratic deficit of the EU.

Unless we as European citizens empower the Union to represent us internationally, to act as a broadly progressive force at a global level, we stand little chance of being able to positively influence and shape the rapidly changing world around us, or to tackle the very serious global challenges that confront us.

Mick is founding editor of Slugger. He has written papers on the impacts of the Internet on politics and the wider media and is a regular guest and speaking events across Ireland, the UK and Europe. Twitter: @MickFealty