Lisbon Essay (20): After eight years of intense political negotiation it is time to move on…

Margot Wallström the current Vice-President of the European Commission lays out her case for Lisbon. In particular she notes the high level of distrust lingering in some circles with regard to the changes agreed (ie Ireland’s right to a commissioner, and the legal guarantees), but argues that these are political decisions the unbinding of which would have severe political consequences for whomsoever tried to do it. She also argues that whilst the dangers of a race to the bottom are real, the co-option of the charter of fundamental human rights means that Lisbon bolsters the social Europe model rather than binds it to corporate interests. Last of all, she argues that the EU cannot afford the kind of prolonged navel gazing that the Eurosceptics would like to see it plunged into were Lisbon to fail, because “the world is changing too fast”.
By Margot Wallström

Thanks for the invitation to contribute to the debate.

I want to make one thing very clear at the outset: The decision on how you vote is your decision and yours alone. The Commission’s position on the Treaty is public and published here but as Vice-President of the Commission, you have the right to hold me accountable and I’m happy to set out some facts.

First, why should the Irish vote on the same text they rejected last year? Well, there is a different deal on the table now. Your government spent several months analysing the reasons why people voted No and then spent many more months negotiating with the other 26 Member States of the EU to see if Irish concerns could be accommodated or fears assuaged. The other 26 countries have now agreed to legally binding guarantees which will enter into force at the same time as the Treaty. And yes, they are legally binding.

One very important change has also taken place: thanks to the Irish, if the Lisbon Treaty comes into force every country will have a Commissioner. Long before the first referendum I had argued against reducing the size of the Commission. I know we all represent European and not national interests but I believe it is vital when proposing legislation to have someone from each country around the table. Ironically, a Yes vote this time is the only guarantee that Ireland will retain its Commissioner .

I was slightly taken aback by the level of distrust in some quarters when in Ireland recently. An interviewer on local radio suggested to me that the 27 Heads of State might unanimously renege on their decision to have one Commissioner per Member State. Why on earth would they do that?! It’s almost insulting to think a Swedish Prime Minister would do such a thing and for an Irish Taoiseach to do it would surely be political suicide.

And when has the EU ever tried to impose conscription, abortion, euthanasia or a minimum wage on Ireland? The Lisbon Treaty has nothing to do with any of these things and the very idea that such claims get credence in some quarters disturbs me. I have come to expect it in some parts of the EU but not in Ireland.

Ireland has been an example and a model to all of the countries, including my own, which have joined the European Union after you. You have consistently and successfully shown how smaller countries can punch above their weight and how the EU can benefit small countries. If Ireland votes No again there will be no legal consequences of course but I can tell you that a lot of Europeans will be asking what’s happening with Ireland.

And on an issue close to my heart: worker’s rights. As a social democrat who has defended these rights for my whole political life, can I say this: We absolutely have to avoid the kind of race to the bottom that could destroy the European social model. But the new Treaty will help us to do that because the Charter of Fundamental Rights will be a legally binding part of it. John Monks, the Secretary General of the European Trade Unions, agrees with me. Would the trade union movement across Europe support the Treaty if it was a step backwards for social rights?!

National sovereignty was raised in one of the debates I took part in. So which countries in the EU want to give up their sovereignty? Certainly not mine. Or any others I can think of. The Lisbon Treaty has nothing to do with a European Superstate. That is for conspiracy theorists. It is an agreement between 27 sovereign states to pool a little bit of that sovereignty in all our interests.

And that is the whole point of the EU. Together we have to find the best way to recover from the economic crisis, to reach a deal on how to fight climate change, to find the best ways to deal with rising levels of migration, and to play our part in resolving conflicts and crises on our borders. And we will only be able to achieve these things if we work together, as 27 countries with 500 million citizens.

I believe that the new Treaty will help us to achieve this. It is designed to ensure that we can work more effectively, more efficiently and more democratically to deal with the problems that can’t be solved at national level.

Whatever you decide to do on October 2nd, I, for one, will be relieved that the institutional debate will be over, for good or for ill. After eight years(!) of negotiations we have too much on our policy agenda to deal with today and we cannot afford to waste precious energies on moving the institutional furniture around again. The world is changing too fast.

The whole of Europe will be watching your decision on 2 October because it will affect us all. Use your vote.