Opinion What Now, Europe?

In the run-up to this week's European Union summit in Brussels, the president of the European Parliament is ratcheting up pressure on the Irish government to present a new plan of attack after its voters rejected a major EU reform treaty. In an editorial for SPIEGEL ONLINE, Hans-Gert Pöttering argues that the ratification process must continue.

By Hans-Gert Pöttering


European Parliament President Hans-Gert Pöttering of Germany: "It remains our goal to see the Lisbon Treaty enter into force ..."
REUTERS

European Parliament President Hans-Gert Pöttering of Germany: "It remains our goal to see the Lisbon Treaty enter into force ..."

On June 12, 2008 the citizens of Ireland voted "no" to the Lisbon Treaty. A detailed analysis will be needed of how this result came about and what caused the Irish, who have benefited from the European Union more than almost any other country, to vote this way.

At first glance it seems that the "no" vote resulted for contradictory reasons: Some business people favored a "no" because they felt their economic freedoms were under threat; others, such as some trade unionists, feared that the treaty didn't pay enough attention to the social system. Yet others even believed that abortion would be made easier by the treaty or that the Irish tax system would be put in question.

As French General Charles de Gaulle once said, in a referendum answers are given to questions that were not asked. I would not go as far as that, but there is a kernel of truth in that statement. What really motivated the Irish people, why they did not believe the European Union was going into the future on the right path with this treaty, remains to be analyzed in detail.

What is certain is that the outcome of this vote confronts the EU with one of the most difficult challenges in its history -- albeit not the first one. The Lisbon Reform Treaty is a huge step forward and we should not give it up. Compared to the existing Treaty of Nice, the reform treaty offers many advantages that one cannot deny: Lisbon grants the EU more democracy, greater ability to act and greater transparency. It strengthens the European Parliament considerably, gives national parliaments more responsibility in determining the course of European policy. Lisbon allows citizens of the European Union a power of initiative in relation to the European Institutions what will make democracy on the EU level more vital. More Europe will not mean less space for decision-making on the local level. On the contrary: The Treaty of Lisbon guarantees local self-government.

The Lisbon Treaty is the answer to justified criticisms that citizens have made of the European Union's shortcomings. This treaty brings the European Union closer to its citizens. We must make it perfectly clear that the adoption of the reform treaty is an absolute necessity to enable the European Union to defend its values and interests in the 21st century. Without the reforms made possible by the Lisbon Treaty, the accession of further countries to the European Union is hardly conceivable. We call upon the EU summit on Thursday and Friday in Brussels to take all appropriate steps to make the reform treaty a reality.

So what comes next? First, the ratification process must continue without reservation, since 18 countries have already approved the treaty. Ratification by other countries of the European Union is just as valid and must be respected just as much as the vote in Ireland.

We expect that at the EU summit in Brussels on June 19-20, the Irish government will give an initial assessment of the outcome of the vote in Ireland and put forward proposals as to how we can jointly progress beyond this difficult phase in European politics. The Irish government must have the first say in this matter. Not just because this is the custom but out of respect for the Irish vote. Therefore any speculation or conjecture as to possible solutions ahead of the summit would be inappropriate.

The European Parliament will devote all its energies and display maximum commitment to overcoming these challenges. We expect the same of the European Commission and of the governments of all European Union member states. We equally expect the European Parliament to be fully involved in the process. It remains our goal to see the Lisbon Treaty enter into force before the June 2009 elections to the European Parliament.

Hans-Gert Pöttering, a German member of the center-right Christian Democrats (known as the European Peoples Party in Brussels and Strasbourg), is president of the European Parliament.

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