Lisbon treaty passed: now politicians must persuade citizens to think European.
So the Treaty of Lisbon has been ratified. With the Czech Constitutional Court backing its contents as legal and a new national opt-out from the Charter of Fundamental Rights portion of the treaty given to his country, Czech president Vaclav Klaus has at last signed the treaty.
It should now come into force by the end of the year. So we will see a permanent president of the European Council of Ministers (albeit probably low profile Belgian prime minister Herman van Rompuy rather than pushy ex-UK PM Tony Blair); an EU foreign minister; and more power for the European Parliament.
We should also see an end to the interminable navel gazing to which Europe has subjected itself since trying to negotiate a more ambitious European Constitution back in 2001. Since this project was wrecked by referenda 'no' votes in founding EU states France and the Netherlands, we have
been left with the slimmed down Lisbon Treaty (after more painful negotiations). And given that has only passed with four months' grace before a robustly Eurosceptic British Conservative government is elected into office--who could have withdrawn UK support for the project--it is clear this was a squeaker.
It will surely be years before anyone tries to strengthen European Union institutions at the expense of member states again.
This will have consequences. It means--as Polish president (and another Eurosceptic) Lech Kaczynski has claimed--Europe will remain a confederation of member states. Yes, wedded by a comprehensive body of common European law, and with a powerful European Court of Justice remaining supreme over such legislation, this is a close knit union--and uniquely snug for a group of sovereign states--but Europe is not going to become a country.
And that of course reflects the mentality and (undeveloped) political maturity of the EU electorate. For despite the 52 years of ever deepening (and expanding) union since the signing of the EU's founding Treaty of Rome in 1957, and the growth in package holidays and independent travel, cross-border property sales, and international electronic media, Europeans are still very national. They are way more English, French, German , Polish and Czech than they are European, in a way that Texans, Californians and New Yorkers are way more American than identifying with their own local US states. And this is reflected in voting patterns. European Parliament elections are still essentially national affairs--with the performance of the national government being the key determining factor in voting shifts.
We have yet to see the growth of a European political consciousness. Given business, trade, people and pollution flow across the continent (and would regardless of the EU), it would be helpful for European citizens to have views on how to deal with these issues on a continental basis. But largely they do not. And unless a faction in the European Parliament seizes power and forces others out of authority--instead of preserving on a perpetual mushy all-party coalition--it will probably stay that way.
In this sense, the founders of Europe now have a tougher job--having pushed EU unity as far as they probably can politically, they now need to change people's attitudes if they want more Europe. They need to dismantle mental frontiers of attitudes and culture and stop relying on constitutional fiat to create a European polity. Only then will we see real political Europeans, and that may be some years off.
By Keith Nuthall, International News Services